Potential Solutions to the Publishing Problem?

Given the rapid rise in sales for ebooks and shortening attention spans, traditional book publishing has been facing somewhat of a rough patch. However, several of the large publishing houses, along with several smaller ventures, have been doing their best to revolutionise the traditional publishing industry in an attempt to breath life back into the book. In a recent article for the Guardian, William Skidelsky has written a brilliant summary of some of the more prominent efforts at taking the publishing industry by storm.

The overarching link that seems to tie these new forms together is brevity, with publishers looking to solve the problem of the short story; they are proposing new forms of book that are short in length but maintain the connection between a set of characters and a reader.

As their informative website suggests, Unbound is a throwback to the days of subscription publishing – premises for books are pitched to the membership of the website, who then choose to pledge money to option the book (with money being returned to pledgers if a certain level of subscription is not met). Whilst this seems to solve the problem of writing books that will never see print, it seems the least viable of the options presented in the article. The desire for the book is limited to the users of the site and unestablished authors will struggle to garner attention on the website itself.

The notion of Hybrid Books seems to be the strongest of all the suggestions proffered. Readers would be able to access paratextual material, such as footnotes and artwork, by scanning a barcode with their smartphone. This seems to be a brilliant idea to me – it makes referring to citations within the text much easier, as it saves the frustration of flicking between the front and back of the book itself and as Dennis Johnson points out, it allows publishers to include vast amounts of content that they would otherwise be unable to include. Not only does this make for a richer reading experience, but it makes the text itself a slimmer edition – a factor for many when it comes to selecting a book from the shelf.

The BoxFiction idea is certainly an intriguing one as it proposes a form of serialised ‘episodes’ written about the extended worlds of television programmes. This would allow writers to explore the exploits of more minor characters or aspects of their respective programmes in much more depth, rather than attempting to squeeze additional storylines into a small amount of air time. Of course, this is dependent on a fan base that is devoted to the world of the television programme in question, but if this interest is already there, there is a well of readers to be tapped into.

Finally the Penguin Short is discussed, although I feel this is perhaps the weakest of the suggestions. The premise is an interesting one – it proposes selling ‘books’ somewhere in length between a magazine article and a short story. The idea behind this is that an article is too short to give a subject a full treatment, whilst many people do not read a whole short story while on the move. There certainly is potential in this format, if the right kind of subjects are discussed and released, I can see this being successful. However, I feel that Penguin may have their pricing model wrong, charging £1.99 for each short. This could be a hindrance, as many entire novels are being sold in ebook form for less than this.

The market for traditional publishers is looking tough right now, but the book is by no means dead. They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and there certainly are people out there working hard to find a way to revolutionise the book and


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