Since Amazon revolutionised modern publishing with the introduction of the first e-reader, the Kindle, the modern day reader has seen the ignition of a digital publishing fire that appears, years later, to still be far away from extinguishable. In a steady movement away from the traditional paperback novel since this point, fiction has experienced an explosion of digital storytelling that has seen print described as an archaism and even the decline of e-reader sales to only 47.9m units, as revealed in a report published by The Bookseller.
The history of publishing trends
Previous decades have seen a growing obsession amongst popular consumer markets with convenience and the accessibility of information that started with the introduction of the Cloud. One of the major benefits of the development of the Cloud was that it accommodated for the busy life of entrepreneurs, students and working individuals, and it seems this idea has not been lost over time. In the first months after its introduction, the e-reader amassed high sales for traditional publishers (“the big five”) in a number of niche markets including academic literature, although over time it seems even the most demanding of publishing trends falters as consumer behaviour changes in line with social, political and economic factors.
As this steady progression suggests, trends in publishing, as is the same with any creative and innovative industry, are often ephemeral, describing how old ones regularly make way for the new. In much the same way, ephemeral appears to be one of the most common of today’s trends, the three hundred page genre fiction novel falling short to the likes of the digital smartphone application, storybook and pop-up book, each quicker, easier and cheaper to produce and consume than the former. This was just one of a multitude of predictions for digital publishing that has been publicised in recent years, amongst a collapse in print and a revival of the non-fiction “indie” author.
Print vs. Digital
In recent years, the traditional paperback novel has been described using words of a much more romanticised connotation than the adjectives chosen for its digital counterpart: sentimentality and nostalgia. Fictional purists are inherently concerned with the tactile experience made opportune by publication in print: the romanticised book in hand ideology of earmarking the corners of favourite passages in favourite books and eagerly turning the first page. Research upon consumer behaviour observes numerous sources introducing the concept of a theoretical storytelling hierarchy of which print has remained at the top for considerable time with smartphone applications, digital marketing and other less traditional forms of storytelling much lower.
However, as a recent study on adult reading habits conducted by The Book Trust concludes, significant minorities in England demonstrate negative attitudes towards reading with 36% of those sampled claiming boredom before reaching the end of the book. This study suggests an overt gap in the market for a storytelling platform that sufficiently engages the reader with diversified narratives and complex characters that exist beyond the limitations of the page in much the same manner as they do in our imaginations.
Is there room for both?
Most notable in the ongoing debate between print and digital is the emergence of articles in recent years seeking, not to resolve an issue of which platform is the most prevalent, but in deciphering a way in which they can work alongside one another. The perceived collapse of print publishing has for a long time been the primary concern of independent booksellers when considering the growth in popularity of digital platforms, however, latest research can conclude that publishers seek a collaborative storytelling community created through both, print and digital mediums.
The experts’ view of what’s next
Industry luminaries often speculate upon the future of modern publishing and arrive at the same conclusion: there will be a rapid increase in digital output from leading book publishers in the upcoming years. In interview with The Guardian newspaper, Anna Rafferty, the Digital Managing Director for UK publishing house, Penguin Books speaks of digital as “a brand new storytelling format” and describes her fascination with the latest developments in digital storytelling as being ultimately concerned with the explosion of creativity that it enables.
The same article, ‘Digital publishing: the experts’ view of what’s next’ has Dan Franklin for the world’s largest general interest paperback publisher, Random House beg the question of what to do when digital publishing begins to reach maturity. A distinct prevalence of words surrounding the idea of experimentation, risk-taking and challenging readers’ everyday perceptions was mentioned, raising the possibility of an influx of digital output from the company in their upcoming projects. According to Franklin, we can expect “location-based storytelling, intrinsic and overt game-like interactivity, augmented reality and ‘born digital’ fiction”.
In 2016, two years since the publishing of The Guardian‘s article, we are at a pivotal moment in our understanding to explore what it really is for a company to adapt their approaches to suit the lifestyles of a more technologically literate consumer market. Thankfully, a myriad of sensory and exploratory digital case studies have unveiled themselves of late, paving the way for others to follow in their footfalls.
Publishers’ respond to digital breakthrough
With the vibrant artwork and imagery at the core of their storytelling technique opening extensive opportunities for interactivity, it is children’s fiction that dominates the discussion of the future of digital publishing. While book publishers remain decisively confident of the survival of printed picture books for the youngest readers: children will always have a bookshelf, there is still a raft of digital apps and storybooks making an appearance on today’s market.
Leading book publishers and even the lesser known independent children’s book publishers often overcome some of the greatest challenges of creating original content through revitalising older, more traditional narratives – think the famous quote by The Chronicles of Narnia author, C.S Lewis: “Someday, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”. Instead of publishers’ racking their brains and countless resources for fresh, high quality material, many spy a special value in breathing life to many of our favourite stories and characters in a new storytelling format.
“Someday, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”, C.S Lewis
Alice is a digital app that is based upon the original content and characters from Lewis Carroll’s classic storybook, Alice in Wonderland. The now incredibly popular children’s e-book app created by international award-winning creative consultant, Emanuel Paletz has received lavish praise for not only its realistic imagery that extends far beyond the page, but for embellishing upon the historical, social, political and philosophical layers of the traditional narrative. Paletz, who is currently working on developing interactive elements for Carroll’s original sequel, Alice through the Looking Glass explains in interview with leader in tech innovation, VentureBeat, his intentions for Alice. “The idea behind the project was to engage parents with their children”, says Paletz, “I wanted to combine interactive experience along with the film ‘feel'”.
Advantages of going digital
Whether we like it or not, we are entering a brand new world of immersive, interactive digital literature: the kind of literature that entices our imaginations, stimulates us and has us spiralling into healthy discussion. Publishing has began to and will continue to evolve to meet the demands of a modern consumer market who is growing increasingly more responsive and perceptive to digital innovation and its developments. While print offers a tactile experience, latest best sellers in the market make it clear that it is the immersive, exploratory and sensory capabilities of digital that satisfy our cognitive desire for interaction. We seek the explosion of characters and narratives that reflect our everyday perceptions that cannot be enabled in print.
“The digital picture books we bring to market must be innovative, must be technologically flawless, must exceed the expectations of the consumer, and must – above all else – delight kids”, Gibson at Random House
There is much to learn from the most recent breakthroughs into digital publishing – take risks, do not limit oneself to one medium and open your mind to all possibilities. Digital, most certainly offers a new and exciting avenue for the renewal of our most basic and traditional narratives, while print is still very widely regarded.