Monday, November 26, 2007

The Digital Revolution

Just when you thought you knew everything you needed to know to become a published author-- the world changes.

Okay, I know that sounds awfully dramatic, but some of the recent changes in the publishing world are just that - DRAMATIC!

And I’m excited about the possibilities.

Almost simultaneously the following publications provided their own brand of ammunition for the digital revolution can(n)on:

In the Nov 12, 2007 edition of Publishers Weekly is an intriguing but teasing cover story with lots of visuals about some of the ‘New Models for Digital Content.’ Yes, you’ve been hearing about digital content and new platforms for sometime now, but the revolution may actually be here - or at least be getting started. I personally think that it’s been here for a while, creeping along, pulling us in - some screaming and kicking, others with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts and on their MP3 players.

What’s important to note here is that publishers are looking for more and more digital vehicles to sell content to increasingly tech-savvy and time-crunched generations. Delivery can be via your cell phone, email, PDA or the new e-reader from Amazon.

The Nov 26, 2007 edition of Newsweek touts that ‘Books Aren’t Dead’ and delves into the new reader from Amazon.com with a teaser about the ‘Future of Reading’ by Stephen Levy. Personally, I’m just happy that there is a future, given the decline of readership in the past decade or so. The device that Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos is now introducing is called the Kindle. According to the article, the Kindle is so named to evoke the crackling spark of knowledge.

Here’s the link: http://www.newsweek.com/id/70983

Contrast these two articles with a brief but poignant article in USA Today about the decline of recreational readers. Fiction writers may be shuddering at this pronouncement, as it renders an already competitive arena even more difficult to break into and maintain a foothold.

Here’s the link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-11-18-reading-decline_N.htm?csp=34

and from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette here’s the NEA’s take on this issue:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07324/835242-42.stm?loc=interstitialskip

So, what are we as writers to think about all of this? Will readers read more recreational material, such as fiction, if the material is delivered on electronic devices? Perhaps. I say perhaps because anyone writing content for digital devices needs to understand that the use of white space is important. Readers pressed for time want to be able to read whenever they can - between train stops, on lunch breaks, long elevator rides, and even in the restroom. Information has to be delivered in concise chunks that can be easily parsed around the readers daily life.

Add to this the fact that traditional print sources for fiction reviews are going the way of the dinosaur. However, online review sources are proliferating.

So, as a writer, especially of fiction, why am I so excited? I’m excited because just as readers today are pressed for time and have too many things clamoring for their attention, I face the same challenges in finding time and space to write. I’m excited about the electronic devices that allow me as both a fiction and non-fiction writer to deliver smaller, more bite-size pieces of information and entertainment to my readers. I’m also excited because the new digital world allows me to reach an increasingly international audience, many who crave anything American.

I love the challenge of trying to compress my thoughts and ideas into a smaller more concise package. In some ways, I view this as the part of writing that defines each of us as unique artists as we carefully select the words we want to use to paint our literary pictures. The challenge for writers is to distinguish themselves from everyone else. The rise of digital media gives us the opportunity to do so.

In a way, we were all given a wake-up call when Graphic Novels became so popular, especially with younger generations. Shorter sentences. Faster pace. Infobites.

Does this mean the complete demise of paper-based books? Hell no! Remember the paperless office? Didn’t happen. Certain things will always lend themselves to electronic delivery such as bank statements, etc., but some things will always be better in ‘traditional’ paper format. What seems to be happening is that readers are increasingly given a choice as to which format they want their books delivered in. And more choices for readers can mean more opportunities for writers.

While others bemoan the electronic age, I for one am joining the digital revolution!

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