Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Digital Revolution—Not an End, but a Means

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze WIK conference this weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending four truly relevant workshops.  One presentation, in particular, altered the course of a significant grudge I have held against e-readers and tablets.  I'm no luddite, but some things are just sacred.   Rubin Pfeffer, former Senior VP of children's publishing at  S&S and currently an agent at East/West Literary Agency, gave the specter of E-Publishing a whole new look and eased some of my anxiety that I may have missed my chance to publish the way I had always dreamed—as a real, paper and binding book.

He started by taking us through the development of media through history, from radio to film to television to the internet, and pointed out that while technology has changed, none of these vehicles for creativity has gone into extinction.  To the contrary, such revolutions have brought about innovations that have not only created enormous opportunity but expanded the media in ways that reach an even broader audience.  With e-books, enhanced e-books, and apps, the possibilities are staggering.

I know, I know.  At first I felt that technology cheapened our enterprise, that it somehow denigrated the sanctity of the book.  I still feel a little twinge of that pain, but I truly believe that the book as we know it will not die, not completely.  The way we publish in general, however, will definitely change.  Contracts, marketing, development.  The business model simply must change.

As I listened to Mr. Pfeffer describe how the new technology is evolving and what implications it has for our creativity, I started thinking of all the new possibilities and mourned the fading biblio-empire a little bit less.  Change is difficult...and inevitable.  We will all go through some growing pains, but I hope they will be truly growing pains.  That we will stretch ourselves a  little more and seize the opportunity to connect with our audience in ways that will enrich their relationship with literature and maybe even whet their appetite for more.

It will not be long before the number of e-books sold outpaces the traditional paper book, but that does not mean an end to good books.  Technology is simply a means by which we can share our stories with even more readers.  If their eyes are glued to a glowing screen and their fingers agile at finessing a touch pad, let is meet them where they are, where we can engage them in a variety of ways.

I can imagine the terror that those first screen actors felt when silent movies gave way to the talkies.  Some embraced the revolution and honed a new side of their craft, while others slinked away into obscurity.  Think of how much richer the experience is, how those who embraced it discovered a new voice.  I will always cherish my romantic ideal and dream of holding that beautiful hard-bound book in my hands, but I will also relish the knowledge that my story is in the hands of the young people for whom I wrote it, in whatever way it reaches them.

I would rather have my kids' eyes locked on a screen that leads them through a path of beautifully sculpted words and into challenging revelations than one that dulls their mind and entrances them with the likes of a giggling sponge or lowers them into the mire of some alternate universe that claims to be "reality tv."


  1. Well said, my dear. I often compare this change to how those who acted on the stage must have felt with the advent of motion pictures and then television. All three still exist to this day, right?

  2. Fantastic post, Mary Ann. Unlike you, I am a Luddite. Or maybe I’m just all right with the technology that I let myself get used to.

    Reading your post set my mind in a constructive direction. Frankly, what’s the alternative?

    And while the industry is struggling to adjust the road connecting the writer to the reader, the two ends of the journey have not changed.

    Good reminder to us writers and readers. We are not obsolete.

  3. Your blog is very good I like it, I wait for your presence on my blog http://skrtu.blogspot.com

  4. i think that there will always be space for both electronic reading stuff and printed reading stuff. especially in countries where people will continue to live in boondocks where there's no electricity (and electricity will be difficult for a long time to bring in)--hence no computers or similar devices (desktop or mobile) and no internet. long live printed! :)

  5. I agree that physical and e-books are both here to stay.

  6. Agree with Marcia and Toink Girl. I just posted on this issue the other day. I don't have an e-reader, but it seems to me that both e-readers and paper books have their advantages and disadvantages. I think there will be a market for both, at least for a little while longer.

    I'm curious, do e-readers allow for serendipity? I discovered Richard Russo as a writer because I walked into a store where his books were prominently displayed. I've checked out other books because they were next to the one I was going for, and looked interesting too. Do e-readers allow for similar interactions?

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Perhaps books won't go away, though scrolls did, and I'm sure the scribes lamented the loss, but in the end, books were just better technology. IF ereaders replace books, it will be because they are better technology and because people prefer them. I can easily see books continuing, but only if people want them. So do we?

    For myself, I like longer texts in book format, shorter texts electronic.

  9. Library Diva, that's a great point. I have often been drawn to a book because I saw it displayed. While covers and info can be featured on e-readers, you won't get the breadth that a physical book store can offer...or the ambience.

  10. Very good article.
    I too have been talking about media for the last several years. There are valid point for both the traditional media, print etc, and new media venues, be it ebooks, or whatever comes next. One point to remember is this a paper book can still be read if its a 100 years old, The question is will our content even still be around in 10 years much less a 100 years from now.
    What writers are creating is content, which is is put into whatever form is being sold today, be it paper books, or ebooks,.
    Keep up the good work
    Ken Lawson


Thanks to spammers, this blog is moderated, so don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't appear right away. Thanks for stopping by!