In an ironic twist, Saturday’s Age published two stories about e-books. One by author Carmel Bird (see previous post) who states that the intimacy of turning the pages of a book can never be replaced. The second by Jane Sullivan explains how readers of The Age can access a new and exclusive digital story:
October 3, 2009
“NOBODY is going to sit down and read a book on a twitchy little screen,” US writer Annie Proulx said in 1994. “Ever.”
What a difference 15 years make. Today, millions read books on a variety of “twitchy little screens”: laptops, e-books, iPods or iPhones. And from October 12, Age readers will be able to read a serialised story on their mobile phones.
In the tradition of Charles Dickens, who launched his novels in serial form, Melbourne writer Marieke Hardy has created a 20-episode story, to be sent out to mobiles over four weeks.
”It will be quite riveting,” promises The Age’seditor-in-chief, Paul Ramadge. “Marieke is a wonderfully talented and immediately engaging writer.” The idea is to test the story’s reception, get reader feedback and develop the potential to talk to Age readers “in multiple ways”.
It’s probable that this is Australia’s first sizeable fiction written for the mobile phone. But in Japan, millions of readers are devouring novels on their phones, often when commuting to work or school. They download the novels – usually racy romances – and read them in 70-word instalments.
As many as 86 per cent of high school girls read these phone stories, and the novels subsequently turned into print form have raced to the top of bestseller lists.
In other countries, alternatives to the traditional book are catching on more slowly. But Nick Cave wrote the first chapter of his novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, on his iPhone, and the book is available as an iPhone application.
Hundreds of other titles are being downloaded on to e-book readers such as Kindle or Echo Reader, or smartphones such as iPhone or iPod touch, either free or for a fraction of the price of a print book.
Melbourne mobile media theorist Paul Green does not see these alternatives taking over from print. “The novel is going to be pretty awkward to read on the small screen,” he says. “But there will be a place for the audio book, and a trend towards reading and writing short books with short chapters on these devices, as their screens get bigger.”
Sydney writer Richard Watson, author of Future Files, thinks the publishing world is about to undergo a seismic shock. Books as we know them will exist beside a host of new alternatives.
The creation of a book may not include an agent or a publisher: instead, authors will self-publish using software and online services such as Blurb, and search out niche markets. As well as downloading books, readers will print them through automated publishing machines, or buy e-books in 99-cent instalments.
It’s enough to make you want to get away from it all and curl up with a book.
Details of how to register for The Age mobile phone story will be announced next week.
It will be interesting to gauge the response to the digital story.