Five Provocations - Banff In(ter)ventions Manifesto

12 March 2010 in Future of Publishing

I wrote this manifesto prior to attending ‘In(ter)ventions’; it reflects my concerns as a writer who works in both print publishing and digital fiction.  At Banff the focus of the conference was primarily on the avant-garde and poetics; as a fiction writer my concerns, in this context, felt more mainstream.  This itself was interesting – in the world of book publishing I’m often seen as the futurist, the digital advocate.  At Banff my concern with narrative and story positioned me as a member of the non-avant old guard, a traditionalist.  This is an observation, not a complaint – I found the conference hugely useful and completely fascinating. 

1.  We need to talk about money.  Some of us reside inside the academy, some of us reside outside the academy; some of us get grants for our work, some of us do not.  Writers need to be thinking hard about how to protect our revenues across all platforms.  As publishing is shaken up by the new technologies, writers need to be proactive, involved in the on-going discussions about developing fair terms and new business models.

2.  Writers, publishers, and teachers need to get their heads out of the sand:  the digital future is already here and we risk becoming dinosaurs, as well as ostriches, if we don’t engage with the multitude of possibilities for storytelling offered to us by the new technologies. 

3.  Stop talking about ebooks. Ebooks are boring.  Convenient, practical, destined to become one of the ways we read, but boring, as counter-intuitive as placing the text of the latest blockbuster novel on a television screen.  The Google Book project, which sees the world’s leading libraries collaborating in secret with a giant corporation, effectively pulling the copyright rug out from under our feet, is either our best friend or our worst enemy or both; however, the Google Book project, along with rapid developments in ereaders, has ensured that the book, as a digital file, will remain at the heart of our culture for the foreseeable future.  So stop talking about ebooks.  There’s a new world of media-rich literature around the next corner; reading on screen has huge potential to enhance the way we tell stories, and to expand our audiences in new directions. 

4.  Always remember that human culture is highly visual.  The first non-oral form of storytelling was cave-painting – the original powerpoint presentation.  The dominance of film and television as storytelling forms in the twentieth century demonstrate that as soon as we are able to use pictures to tell stories, we do.  Literature must reckon with this fact.  As technology enables us to carry rich media in our pockets we need to find ways to make writing - good writing - relevant to new generations of readers.  If we take the long view of the history of storytelling, are plain old words on the page – fixed-type print - an historic anomaly? 

5.  Good writing – and by this I mean writing that demonstrates the love of language, of a good sentence, a well-turned phrase, the power of words, writing that rewards re-reading – must survive, regardless of platform or media.  It’s up to us to make sure that happens. 

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