One of the key perception shifts that publishers need to make, then, is about the book as ‘product’. Whilst the book continues to be viewed as a definable object within covers, as a singular ‘unit’, publishers will continue to limit their role in its production and distribution, and this is a sure fire way for publishers to write themselves out of the future of content creation and dissemination. There are two areas of activity in the linear progression of a text between author and reader which have previously remained hidden to the reader: the development of the text itself; the writing and editing process, and the sales, marketing and distribution of the text. Readers have traditionally had no role in the former and only a limited role in the latter, through word of mouth recommendations or viral marketing. It is likely that today’s digital natives, who have become ‘prosumers’ (producer / consumers) with alarming speed and perhaps even more alarmingly different levels of proficiency, will expect a great deal more involvement in both of these areas of activity if they are to be engaged by texts. Witness two main stream examples, the Star Wars films and the Harry Potter books and films, both of which have developed massive prosumer (or ‘superfan’) followings, and both of which have seen conflict between the film companies and the fans that are creating content.
This segment has echoes of Sherman Young’s The Book is Dead, but also emphasises the fact that the nature of reading and writing as cultural activities are also changing and merging. Loyd points out that the obsessive focus of publishers (and the writing sector generally) on the “book as product” has led to digital strategies that are about turning a printed artefact into a device, such as an e-book, when in fact there is already an established and pervasive culture of digital reading (and writing) that is constantly growing. This reading and writing is taking place on websites, blogs, mobile phones and other media.
I eagerly await the rest of this blog series!