By Kathleen Sweeney
Well, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to talk about e-books…So, curious about what is the newest of the new in e-publication trending, I attended the Center for Communication’s recent collaborative event with The New School, “eBooks: New Trends for a New Decade.”
Prepping myself for a multimedia presentation with the latest offerings in handheld wizardry, I found a room full of curiosity-seekers unexpectedly listening to three panelists onstage, old-style. Where were the gadgets? No iPads zipping around the room? What about a Nokia cell phone interface projecting a how-to for novel-reader usage? Or recent dazzle-worthy additions to the Institute for the Future of the Book? Alas, no gizmos.
Richard Eoin Nash, former publisher of Soft Skull Press and founder of Red Lemonade (and no stranger to these e-pages), offered witty repartee, including an observation that the “supply of content is currently infinite.” Bob Stein, Co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book evoked Marshall McLuhan’s predictions from the 60s, while Matt Shatz, Head of Content Relations at Nokia, foresees that globally, cell phones will be the e-reader to rule them all. Moderator Lisa Gallagher, an Agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, queried these e-pros on the best and the brightest in the e-field but met with many minimal response instances of “let me reframe the question…”
Truth is, most of what’s been seen of the reading experience on handheld devices remains a poor substitute for the 3-D textured page-flipping of actual books. For me, the concept of reading through a piece of lightweight plastic still doesn’t make sense, unless it becomes an entirely new art form. In many ways e-books are still in simulacra stage, referencing the original, like silent films referenced live theatre until film found its own voice.
While many good points were made, including “e-Books are here to stay” and that “uniform software allows for a plethora of hardware choices” for e-reading, the consensus is that the publishing industry remains in flux and hasn’t figured out its role going forward. Yes, yes, but when Gallagher asked what artists or writers have taken this e-book experience to a new level, the panelists had little by way of click-throughs to offer. So who are the cutting edge players redefining reading through the handheld experience?
Which breakthrough iPad experiences match the version of Alice in Wonderland that buzzed up millions of views on YouTube last year?
Or the mysterious multimedia gem Inanimate Alice, a 2009 digital transmedia novel by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph?
Though the panel touched on cell phone novels transforming the reader experience in Japan, unfortunately no Nokia product came to the rescue to show how one actually looks on a mini-screen, which cell phones showcase them most effectively, and who in the U.S. might be writing them.
Is it all still sci-fi? Perhaps the e-industry needs a renegade shake-up into multimedia and transmedia experiences, which are not “bells and whistles” but essential to bringing the genre into its own. Meanwhile, hand me that print copy of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia…
Kathleen Sweeney last wrote for Publishing Perspectives about adult and children’s book trailers. She is a writer and multimedia producer who teaches Media Studies at The New School. Find her on Twitter at @wavemaven or online at www.video-text.com.