It must be part of the New Year dearth of news, but I seem to have read a couple of articles recently about e-reading. No, not the flogged-horse “Is Print Dead?” article. The ones I’m thinking about are not so much about the effect of screen reading on the reader, but more about the way that screen reading has changed the writing itself, and may continue to do so in the future.
Off on a bit of a tangent was an article from The Conversation website called Will TV series go the way of Charles Dickens? Michelle Smith from Deakin University turns back to the serialized form of nineteenth century British fiction which was published chapter by chapter, with a cliff-hanger at the end of each instalment to ensure that the reader purchased the next issue. Television series used to be like this, too, she argues – until boxed sets and internet streaming means that viewers can gorge on a whole season (and even multiple seasons) at one or more (lengthy) sessions. She wonders if, just as the serialized periodical-versions of 19th century books were condensed and the cliff-hangers removed once they were published in one volume:
We can only speculate on the future of television now that traditional methods of broadcast have shifted so dramatically. Yet it is likely that these changes in how we consume television will have some effect on the content we watch in the same way as shifting patterns of print publication altered the very nature of popular fiction in the 19th century.
Related to this, on the same Conversation website, is another article entitled A good year for screen readers: notable ebooks of 2013. Zoe Sadokierski from UTS nominated three ebooks that have used the digital format to do something that print could not. The first, The Silent History was first published in serialized form, one chapter a day, just as the 19th century novels above were. Now that the whole book has been released, it can be purchased as a complete work. The chapters are supplemented with video content and user-generated reports. The second, Gimbal is a short story anthology where you can select the story you want according to the amount of time you have to read it, by genre, or by setting. Maps and pictures support the stories set in a particular city. Finally, she nominated Interaction of Colour, which was originally written in 1960 and has been re-released in hardcover version (at a rather eyewatering price!) You can tap on hotspots for definitions; there are video and audio commentaries; and there are interactive activities to complete. It does sound a bit textbook-y to me, but obviously the images are beautiful and the crystal-clear screen of an ipad would do them justice. We heard a lot about ‘convergence’ a few years ago, but these three examples all affirm for me the blend of ‘reading’ and ‘viewing’ that was predicted with e-readers and screen-based reading technology.
Finally, and rather depressingly, is a short segment from an ABC radio program called Who’s reading the reader? which can be streamed or read from the transcript. Apparently digital libraries can track your reading behaviour and the data can be used to provide feedback to authors. The information could show the point at which readers abandon a story, or jump ahead, or go back a few pages to re-read. If readers return to favourite characters or scenes, they could be brought into a spin-off story. Ah, it’s all about the ‘product’ and ‘delighting the consumer’, isn’t it?