As another year draws to a close, what could be more fitting than looking to the future through the good old reliable medium of crystal ball gazing? There’s nothing like gently caressing a big ball. Apparently. Not that I would know. Erm, anyway. With 2011 officially having been labelled the year of the ebook (they outsold hardbacks for the first time) a host of publishers have recently announced plans that they hope will transform the very nature of the industry.
First it was Stephen Page, head-honcho of indie giant Faber & Faber who, speaking at last week's The Bookseller’s Futurebook conference, claimed that only by becoming creative with copyright could publishers ever truly hope to change the industry and thus make the most of their role as facilitator between authors and their audiences. According to Page, "The baton-passing, linear nature of publishing, marching department to department towards the trade, doesn't lend itself well to the creative process about what we might do and what copyright we might offer. We have to build structural architecture that allows opportunity for that creativity to happen". Translation: create value, commercialise content and generally be more creative with the products publishers are trying to sell. So far most things that Page touches seem to turn to gold – think of the excellent Indie Alliance, the ambitious and admirable Faber Factory, Faber Academy, Faber Finds and Faber Digital. Page is arguably the most influential publisher and seems to be taken Faber, steeped in rich history and traditions, seamlessly into the next chapter of digitisation.
Other publishers share Faber's vision of the future and have wasted no time in making similar proposals. Canongate, for instance, rebranded their website as Canongate TV, which forms part of their philosophy of using all available mediums to reach as wide an audience as possible. Canongate thus no longer considers itself as merely a publisher, but rather an amalgamation of brands selling the same product in various mediums such as Canongate Books, Canongate TV, Canongate Radio and Canongate Music. Another of the big small boys, Bloomsbury, has set up Bloomsbury Institute which will host literary salons, lectures, book clubs and sessions for unpublished writers. The idea again being to increase/improve the interaction that takes place between authors and their audience as well as establishing themselves as more reconisable brands.
You can't talk of the future of books and not mention ebooks but that's exactly what I'm gonna do, it's up there with the compulsory column on saving libraries: b-o-r-i-n-g. However, every cloud has its silver lining etc which in this case is the fact that the popularity of ebooks has resulted in more beautiful, higher quality and original books than ever. I am talking about actual books, the material entity that is the ink, paper, parchment, fastened together to hinge at one side. Or as Ali Smith recently referred to it: a living organism made out of trees with a spine just like other organisms. The point is that publishers have seriously upped their game to make books more enticing to readers as physical objects. This is something I touched on when I wrote about Visual Editions and their über-cool and highly original books using visual elements including photographs, crossed out words, blank pages and/or die-cuts. Whether it's a reissued classic or first time author, the value that a book holds as a material entity is being valued more by publishers. Any crystal ball from Wilko’s could tell you that eventually most books will succumb to the approaching digital dawn, but like vinyl, books will never become extinct, certainly not beautifully crafted ones.
Check Mr Mueller's wonderful Cultural Constellations blog right here