Transliteracy and Publishing

Kindle I was recently invited to give a presentation at the University of Alberta. The topic was "new media and publishing." This might sound simple enough, but after pulling together my thoughts with other references, graphs and statistics, it became more and more muddled. Publishing is not (or has never) really been just about publishing…editing and writing form part of this industry.  Interestingly, there were people who decidedly see three separate industries and believe there are separate experts in each very separate field. Of course, there are experts in each field but I think – what new media perhaps makes more tangible -  is the possibility to be an expert across the three fields.  I imagine this is an aspect of transdisciplinarity and transliteracy. Writers, for example, are able to blog/tweet/update their narratives, edit them, and then publish. Sure, at times writers will collaborate with editors or designers in order to create a more *professional* product, but the ability to be writer/editor/publisher is (easily) there.

Thinking about how these three fields intertwine, I wonder (as many do) about the future of the publishing industry in general.  We have heard of the demise of *the author* and then the death of books one cannot read in the bath…but with new media devices taking off, what really happens with publishing?

The Economist recently explained that John Grisham had a change of heart and suddenly, his books will be available in an electronic format. Had the publishers convinced Grisham to embrace new media or was it the (timely) arrival of the iPad that swayed him? Amazon, (I wonder if it's in response to the iPad), has also upped its voice. Moving from the online environment to TV, we witnessed an ad. for Kindle during a break from Lost. The ad. had a specific feel and I'm not sure whether it really was congruent with the Lost audience…in fact, Amazon customers are having their say:

"I can't believe Amazon is wasting money on Kindle ads during LOST on
ABC. That's some of the most expensive prime-time air time out there.

ads are TERRIBLE too. They don't say anything about the product at all,
and have a terrible indie/emo feel to them. YUCK!"

The ads by Amazon might also be an effort to encourage the sale of e-books. We know newspaper sales are dwindling, print book sales are suffering and e-books (currently at least) might well be boring as Kate notes…but they are selling.

"Like many other parts of the media industry, publishing is being
radically reshaped by the growth of the internet. Online retailers are
already among the biggest distributors of books. Now e-books threaten to
undermine sales of the old-fashioned kind. In response, publishers are
trying to shore up their conventional business while preparing for a
future in which e-books will represent a much bigger chunk of sales.

Quite how big is the subject of much debate. PricewaterhouseCoopers, a
consultancy, reckons e-books will represent about 6% of consumer book
sales in North America by 2013, up from 1.5% last year (see chart).
Carolyn Reidy, the boss of Simon & Schuster, another big publisher,
thinks they could account for 25% of the industry’s sales in America
within three to five years. She may well be right if the iPad and other
tablet computers take off, the prices of dedicated e-readers such as
Amazon’s Kindle keep falling and more consumers start reading books on
smart-phones. Mobclix, an advertising outfit, reckons the number of
programmes, or apps, for books on Apple’s iPhone recently surpassed that
for games, previously the largest category."

What I am interested in seeing develop is the writer/editor/publisher convergence alongside the emergence of multimodal e-books, what David Young calls "enriched e-books." Multimodality – surely that's the future of publishing?

Note: Kindle vs print image from Type Desk, e-book sales image from The Economist.

2 thoughts on “Transliteracy and Publishing

  1. Hi Jess – This is a subject close to my heart. In fact, I don’t agree with you that the roles of writer/editor/publisher can or should merge. And I think there’s a couple of other roles as well – distributor and publicist. But it would be great if you could say more about multimodality and publishing – how can this work? Kate

  2. Thanks for commenting Kate.
    I think the roles *can* merge but I don’t think I said they should. In terms of attaining certain levels of quality, the roles may well remain distinct. But, should one want to create a fully-formed *product*, then I think that’s becoming more possible. I’m thinking of “backpack journalists” who write their stories, include their images, edit their work and then (sometimes) publish it themselves or of course, the story (complete with video/photos from the journalist) go to the editor/publisher.
    In terms of multimodality and publishing I’m thinking of the raising popularity of e-books and the idea of e-ink…books and screens that emulate *real* books, and how the next generation of digital narratives and devices will enable sound, moving images and, perhaps most importantly, user interaction. With the ability to build apps for the iPad I think we’re closer to this multimodal idea. As Jeff Atkinson, General Manager, Publishing and Production Penguin Group (NZ), said today, “We cannot be a spectator sitting on the sidelines, publishers have to get on the pitch and get in the game. We owe it to our authors and to our readers to take maximum advantage of new ways to bring our content to life.” (QBook – – might be one such early example). Joe Wikert, general manager and publisher of O’Reilly Media, also speculates that the the iPad will bring about this kind of multimodal reading experience: the new bookstore will “‘build out the device’s capabilities…’ while adding video and other interactive story elements to its e-books.” (,%20%20&st=cse)

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