eReaders and the Future of Literature

As I’m a tech guy and digital publishing kind of goes with the territory of making webcomics, I’ve got pretty much every eReading device on the mainstream market — Kindle, 1st Gen nook, Color Nook, iPad, and iPhone. I’m very partial to the nook family and the iPhone. The iPad is pretty darn cool, especially because of the full page Comixology App, but as a device it’s a little unwieldy. I much prefer the nooks and the iPhone (that retina display is incredible!). I just wrote an extremely thorough review of the nook color over on the SOLDIERS Blog, so you can go over there to check out my thoughts on the device (I liked it). But for this article I’m a lot more interested in talking about the future of literature in the digital age.

Before this devolves into a paper/pixel debate, let’s go into this with the assumption that digital will win and we’ll all be doing our reading on a digital device in the future. Will there still be paper? Yes. But it will be getting less and less prevalent over the next few years and will eventually dissolve into more of a collector’s market than a mainstream one. How do I know this? Because I’m not typing this on a typewriter, my TV is a flat screen instead of a CRT, and my CD collection was replaced by my ipod long ago. Trust me, publishing is going digital.

Moving past that, a new company called Vooks just launched and B&N is already talking about how their nook color can handle video capable books. Their “nookbooks” for children include animations and narrators, and the entire thing is tied to social networks. Where is the written word? Will the written word remain dominant or will books become more like screenplays with the scenes video’d in? Where does the book end and multimedia entertainment begin? Will I have to start embedding soundtracks into each chapter? Would readers want that?

Writers stand on the edge of a precipice right now, as the book evolves with the technology that presents it. I’m sure when books were clay tablets or scrolls, brevity was certainly important. Pretty direct and to the point writing style, I’m sure. With the printing press, things got a little better, but it was still a lot of work to produce a book. But things improved over the years, to the point where, now, books are hundreds of pages long — many over a thousand. The ease of manufacture allows the writer to really expand on their content and tell bigger stories without the same financial limitations. With eBooks, this is taken one step farther, as books can now be hundreds of pages with another several hundred tacked on at the end. J.A. Konrath’s new ebook has, literally, hundreds of pages of extra content, ranging from outlines to actual correspondence between each of the co-writers as they coordinated their efforts on the book. Why all of that extra material? Hell, why not? It doesn’t cost anyone anything, and there’s a chance people would be interested. Slap on a $2.99 price tag instead of $24.99 and you get a lot of value for your dollar.

But, as readers, do we really want all of that extra content? Or is it a novelty that will wain with time and overuse?

And we haven’t really talked about the ability to include audio/video. When it was eInk readers only, this was nothing more than an idle dream. Now that the color nook and iPad have proven to be very popular, embedded video/audio/photo is a reality. The question is: will readers want it? Then the follow on question: is a “vook” still a book?

I don’t really want embedded video, part of a book is the author’s skill with words to fire the reader’s imagination. I like reading. My children, however, are growing up in a vastly different world than I did, however. In the world of the web, where all media combines in a technicolor mish-mash to convey information, what form will “reading” take for them?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about the future of reading and the form & shape of literature to come.

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

2 Responses to eReaders and the Future of Literature

  1. Have you ever played any of the Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series? The series had books within the game which one could pick up and read. That aspect coupled with the ambient music was a pretty neat effect. I think ebooks could use audio to supplement and reinforce the mood just like music does in film. Granted this may serve to further reinforce what the auteur aspect of the media as opposed to letting the reader have free reign but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I don’t go into a Tarantino film expecting rainbows and unicorns – I go expecting gritty, sometimes specious dialog and stuff to ‘splode.

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      I haven’t played Elder Scrolls, but I get what you’re saying. How we can use digital to augment the reading experience is open to tons of possibilities — audio/soundtrack being just one of them. Maybe it could be taken one step further and the author could even talk about the events of the chapter, why it was written that way, what was its significance. A number of people might appreciate that.

      It’s endless…

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