Broadmeadows shopping centre was packed with bargain hunters the day Barbie moved in. Prams and trolleys dodged human traffic and people rushed past oblivious to the twisting pain in my guts. In the left hand corner of a brightly lit shop plastic limbs cluttered the space where Angus and Robertson’s top 100 books used to be. Barbie and friends now lived where Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series had lured me into a fictional world and inspired me to write. A sense of loss tailgated me for the rest of the day like a shadow.
Things were changing.
Younger cousins were balancing alternate realities, their bodies firmly planted in the lounge room, plugged into IPods. “Hi Demi,” they’d yell when the colourful devices were miraculously absent. “We’ve missed you!” Hugs would last until other devices beeped. “The pie’s ready!” they’d say, flying out of my arms and into artificial restaurants. Just as the tamagotchi was upgraded with sophisticated games and gadgets, it’s naive to think the novel wouldn’t face a similar challenge. Yes it’s the age of technology but some things are irreplaceable. Curling up with a good book, coffee in hand, staining it in your haste to get to the next page. That surge of excitement when you enter a bookshop or library where worlds and possibilities surround your physical space.
Reading is an intimate act that requires physical, emotional and mental connection. I choose to have no technological barriers in my experience and I’m not the only one. There’s naturally going to be a digital readership but that doesn’t necessarily mean that paper books will be forced into retirement. The arrival of an e-form offers readers wider access to books. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for a better agreement. As a reader I choose stained pages and curled ends.
Future generations will grow up reading from screens. This is what they will know. This is what they will love.
There will be a great choice of screens and content and they will be savvy navigators of this e-world. They will consider the world of paper books and newspapers to be quaint and slightly amusing. They will have looks of bemusement on their faces when their teachers tell them that people used to read predominately from printed materials.
They will have access to a variety of screens to read from (tablets, e-readers, mobile phones and other types of screens not invented yet). They may switch from screen to screen depending on whether they are travelling, at home, at work, in bed. Young people with good eyesight may be happy with the use of one screen.
People who can’t afford screens will be able to access public screens, big and small. Libraries will pay for the screens and the content; and the public will be able to loan these products. The general public will pay for the libraries if this is considered of public benefit (as it is today).
Everyone will be able to access novels, novellas, poetry, dictionaries, reference books, magazines, journals and other collections of words and pictures. The same screens will also be able to access social media (twitter, facebook etc.,) which in turn links to an endless variety of written content such as breaking news and celebrity gossip.
Future software and screen technologies will integrate the inflow of data in a seamless manner, ensuring the effortless exchange of information from screen to screen.
People will know about print media, but rarely read from a hard copy. Print copies will be available for some written and pictorial matter but at limited print runs, high cost and only for select ‘special’ materials such as art and photography books, and best sellers. There will be some small presses and independent publishers who persist with printing not for profit ezines and chapbooks of poetry.
Future generations will have never seen a newspaper. Breaking news will be accessed from twitter and facebook feeds. People will pay for the download of whole newspapers and magazines onto their tablets. Many people will get their news for free but quality will take a nosedive.
People will read updated blogs on a regular basis, as they used to read print magazines and newsletters, and will tailor their blog feed to their lifestyle choices. Mothers, fashionistas, foodies, home renovators, gardeners, lovers of stories, poetry and art, travellers, political groupies, environmentalists – there will be blogs for everyone.
Longer collections of words (novels, children’s books, collections of short stories or poetry, reference books etc.,) will be read from a screen. Many will be interactive, with videos, music, and links to further information. People of the future, with short attention spans, will demand an interactive experience (to match the entertainment level of games consoles, 3-d movies, videos and fast paced television shows).
Interested people will visit museums and select libraries to see collections of paper books. The elderly proprietors will tell anyone who is listening that paper books had marvellous hand held qualities and dusty smells that made people swoon.
I think the interactive nature of Blogs is fun and useful for serious writers. It reminds me a bit of sharing new writing with other students in a short story class at RMIT or something like that. I find that after I post something, many new possibilities and revisions will jump out at me as I reread the piece. I love how I can make these changes straight away and the piece becomes more economical.
So I use my Blog (ericdando.com) as part of my editing process and I am occasionally embarrassed about some of the things I post: sloppy, bad spelling, bad grammar, bad ideas etc.
I really love how I can scan cartoons/pictures/symbols and I am really excited at how these look placed with text in different narratives, the scope of that.
Essentially it is a little bit like producing chap books for friends and family but cheaper and instantaneous. I am sometimes disappointed that some journals and publishers consider work posted on Blogs already published. However this has often driven me to produce more new writing to accommodate them. New writing is always a good thing.
I recently got myself an iPhone so that I could view the Sleepers iPhone app sleepersapps.com which included 3 of my short stories and a poem. It is true that I am always eager to see anything with me in it. So I was very eager to see my work in this new format and nobody I knew would download it for me. I think most people didn’t know how. But if you like being economical with text, you will like reading all six Sleepers Almanacs for $6.
(update: I have five stories in the sleepers iphone app now which includes the Sleepers Almanac #7 – featuring my latest story Human Beans from my new graphic novel Beautiful Useful Things.)
I am also very impressed with the new Going Down Swinging online journal #31 goingdownswinging.org.au, which includes multimedia such as video and sound, my favourite being “Cheesie” by Grover Mapleton which is an overheard conversation about different fried cheeses, set to music. A conversation you can dance to. It’s very catchy and about time someone housed-up all that cheese talk that is usually wasted in the kitchen.
They also showcase text and drawings from my new graphic novel, Beautiful Useful Things and much more.
I have made an eBook version of my second novel Oink Oink Oink, but I had to use an early draft, slightly different to the finished manuscript. I’m still not happy with it and am constantly striving to make it as finished as it can be.
I think recently the price of such devices and their Android cousins have become more affordable and accessible. So now there is no excuse, everybody can consume eBooks cheaply and easily on their iPads and iPhones and Android knock offs.
When I downloaded the Kindle app on my iPhone I received a free copy of Treasure Island and began reading it at lunchtime at work, in an effort to avoid talking to people. Perhaps they think I am rereading the same text message over and over, I just don’t care anymore. I had already read Treasure Island as a real book in other lunchtimes a few years earlier and can report that the experience is very similar to reading a real book. I did not have trouble reading the text, I did not squint at the words. I was suitably engrossed and lost within the text as I usually am when reading a good book.
I’m up to the part where Ben Gun hides in the treetops and pretends to be the voice of the dead Captain Flint, as the rest of the pirates search for the treasure buried somewhere in the sand. ‘Fetch aft the rum,’ says Ben Gun from the trees in a spooky voice. ‘Fetch aft the rum,’ he says again.
After reading on an iPhone I do not feel the need to purchase a Kindle or similar eBook reader. As more and more people become confident with downloading and reading eBooks, they may also become comfortable with paying small amounts directly to authors to read their work.
Smashwords, for example, pays authors 70% of the royalties for each book sold and does not stake any claims to the intellectual property rights.
I still desire to self publish small press books which may one day become collectable artefacts.
I do not agree that eBooks or blogs will kill or damage or replace the tactile and beautifully made small press books that are pleasing to the eye and the touch and the collector. However, I do think they will compete with mass produced books from large publishers. But why should I care about the fortunes of large publishers?
I predict more and more troublesome ‘middle list’ authors will begin to self publish their own books very cheaply, selling them as small limited editions from their blogs and web sites, as well as making them available as eBooks for iPhones and iPads and Androids of all kinds on many platforms.
The Book Barn
As an author in the late 90’s, I was left without any copies of my first novel, Snail, when Penguin dumped them in a bargain bin. Perhaps they were pulped. I would have bought them all outright if they were offered to me. Up until then I had been buying boxes of them and selling signed copies slowly at poetry and spoken word events, and to family and friends. So suddenly, I was without a means to promote myself as a writer and this was something I had devoted my life to. Penguin turned me into a literary Craig McLachlan.
So I was and still am always on the lookout for copies of my out of print novel Snail. I search opshops, markets and second hand book stores. I found two copies at The Book Barn on Daylesford Lake during Easter this year. They were $8 dollars each. When I bought them, the guy said, ‘Wow, you must really like this book.’ I felt pretty weird and stupid for not telling him I had written it. I just sort of froze.
Then, I went back to The Book Barn a few months later and found another copy of Snail. It was also $8. I was really excited, I took it straight up to the counter and said, ‘I wrote this book,’ so the guy said I could have it for $5.
Published paperback copies of Snail (Penguin, 1996) have also appreciated in value over time, with copies being posted on eBay for $70 and upwards.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing, but more than one person has told me they have stolen a copy of Snail from their local library, such was their desire to own the artifact for themselves. Of course stealing an eBook will be much less of a crime in the future.
***winks enigmatically to camera and clutches chin for author photograph***