The book is dead!

April 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm Leave a comment

Last night I gave a talk and was on a panel at an event organised by the Children’s Books Circle on the subject of ‘the future of children’s publishing in a digital world’ held at Penguin books offices in London.

This, of course, is a hot topic these days with publishers, authors and others worried about the demise of the book when there are so many other digital offerings available.

I have been involved in the world of digital technology since 1984 and in the 25 years since then this has been a constant concern. However, the book is still very much alive even in this 21st century digital age, and in my view will remain so.

What has happened, though, is that in today’s digital world the book sits in a different context. Sales of children’s book actually are pretty healthy but one significant change is that these sales are invested in fewer authors. This suggests to me that whilst there is still a place for the book it has to fight for position and consumers are ever more discerning.

If this means that it is just the good books that survive then that’s probably a good thing. The danger, however, is that publishers, not renown for their adventurousness may become even less willing to take a risk on new authors.

As well as standing on its own the book, of course, has a life in conjunction with other digital offerings which are either counterparts or conjoined. The Lemony Snicket ‘Series of unfortunate events’ is a popular series of books and now has a film and video games associated with it. Similarly with the Harry Potter books which also have films and games and other merchandising materials related.

In other conjoined relationships books and digital media are interdependent. Scholastics 39 clues, for example, where in order to find clues and solve problems online users have to read the books. Currently the existing elements of this are books, clue cards and web based activities. However one feels that films and other merchandising opportunities are looming.

Whilst the Scholastic line is that with the 39 clues they are encouraging young people it is hard not to think that such laudable ideals are secondary to other more commercial motives.

In the purely digital world there are exciting things happening in the world of children’s storytelling. Inanimatealice, for example, is a purely digital story told in a series of multimedia episodes that grow in duration, in complexity and in interactivity as the story unfolds.

The really neat thing about this is that it has an associated authoring facility that users can utilise (although they do have to buy it separately) to create their own stories, or better still weave their stories into the story of Alice. Fantastic.

And who knows what the creative writing world will make of the opportunities offered  by the potential of, for example, creating flexible, personalised stories made up purely of 140 character Tweets.

But as for the book it’s pretty clear, I think.

The book is dead. Long live the book!

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Entry filed under: childrens book's, childrens publishing, Digital teknology, digital world, Films, Multimedia, video games.

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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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