New formats, mixed media supplanting traditional novels?

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pengwinz

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oops, that should read "supplanting"

I think this is fast becoming an issue in MG and YA and will eventually find it's way into picture books as devices incorporate more than digital ink, but instead are audio/video capable and internet ready.

A quote from my blog post today on the issue:

Without a doubt, we are well along in a revolution where the written, printed word is becoming heavily encroached upon by images, video and audio content. And while traditional novels (both paper and ebook) will be around for a long time to come, they will have to compete more and more with stories that incorporate mixed media.

What do you think?
 
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Ineti

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I think it's pretty much a given, and business as usual. Books compete against movies, television, video games, and plenty of other forms of entertainment. Electronic readers that can do color and sound and so on are just the latest hotness. Some new technological marvel will come out, and print books will have to continue to compete. Nothing really earth-breaking here.
 

MsJudy

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I think people love to shriek about one medium REPLACING another, but in reality that doesn't often happen. True, TV makes more money than radio, but people are still listening. Even in the iPod age, radios are still included in every new car.

My first graders love a website called starfall.com that has interactive books. But I've never had a single student complain about "real" books. They LOVE picture books. They LOVE reading. AND they love video games.

My son has an iPod Touch, an Xbox, a PS2, and satellite TV. And he reads every day, over 2 million words this year alone. He will actually turn off the TV to read.

I don't think it's a competition. I think it's a smorgasbord of choices. Some stories and activities work well in one medium; some work better in another.

Personally, I thank my lucky stars I'm alive in an age that gives me Google, iTunes and Harry Potter, all at once.
 

pengwinz

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I think people love to shriek about one medium REPLACING another, but in reality that doesn't often happen. True, TV makes more money than radio, but people are still listening. Even in the iPod age, radios are still included in every new car.

My first graders love a website called starfall.com that has interactive books. But I've never had a single student complain about "real" books. They LOVE picture books. They LOVE reading. AND they love video games.

My son has an iPod Touch, an Xbox, a PS2, and satellite TV. And he reads every day, over 2 million words this year alone. He will actually turn off the TV to read.

I don't think it's a competition. I think it's a smorgasbord of choices. Some stories and activities work well in one medium; some work better in another.

Personally, I thank my lucky stars I'm alive in an age that gives me Google, iTunes and Harry Potter, all at once.

I hope my post didn't come across as alarmist. In fact, my intent was not to bemoan the evolutiontoion, but to 1) celebrate the changes we're seeing and 2) to inform and encourage providers of children's content to think beyond the printed word (and, as I've blogged about before in the case of picture books, the illustrated page). I don't think anyone can deny that information content is reaching us in new and varied ways; our children will have access to more knowledge brought to them in more forms than we enjoyed as children. This is a good thing. But as providers of content, we must evolve as well in order to stay relevant.

Anecdotal claims to the contrary aside, these new forms do compete with one another for our attention. To put it in modern terms, it's about bandwith. Believe it or not, our ability to take in information is limited, and when the preferential mechanism for doing so shifts, it does so at the expense of something else. This is not a bad thing, but it is real. And while I do believe (and have consistently stated in the past) that traditional forms of the book will be with us for a long time to come, we cannot simply recite History and claim that these new paradigms won't change anything. That is simply naive.

I think it's pretty much a given, and business as usual. Books compete against movies, television, video games, and plenty of other forms of entertainment. Electronic readers that can do color and sound and so on are just the latest hotness. Some new technological marvel will come out, and print books will have to continue to compete. Nothing really earth-breaking here.

It's a disservice to those new to the business, as well as veterans firmly entrenched in traditional written forms, to understate the significance of the phenomenon by implying only earth-shattering events warrant notice. The evolution of literature, and especially children's content, is an on-going process. It's not something that happened at some point in the past and we've moved on from, but rather something that is happening and continues to happen. Children's lit is especially susceptible to flux as its forms are so varied, from picturebooks and videos to GNs to novels; children today are much more keyed into digital (NOT, I firmly believe, at the exclusion of analogue), which means that they are actively seeking content in these forms. It is our responsibility to meet those expectations.

A thorough read of my blog would have shown that it's not a call to arms against change, but a call to embrace changes, to broaden our horizons as content providers and to stretch those boundaries.
 

MsJudy

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Well, I'm not sure what you'd like us to do here. Discuss the issue? Or go check out your blog? Because, to be honest, that's a little what it feels like. One of those cross-marketing things to draw people over to your blog and get some hits. Which is fine, of course. That's what we're all supposed to be doing. But my time is very limited these days, so I didn't click on the links. I just responded to what you posted here.
 

pengwinz

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Well, I'm not sure what you'd like us to do here. Discuss the issue?

Absolutely!

Or go check out your blog? Because, to be honest, that's a little what it feels like. One of those cross-marketing things to draw people over to your blog and get some hits.

If inclined to participate in the discussion, then yes. I'm not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes; of course I want more traffic. I'm not interested in blogging simply to hear the sound of my voice (or fingers on the keyboard), but rather to engage in real discussions about issues that seem important to me. I invite alternative points of view, but will engage in spirited discussion. And if I come across as brash, it's simply because I'm passionate about the issues. But as I mentioned above, dismissing a topic as old news only does a disservice to those who may not have the benefit of awareness provided by time and experience.

But my time is very limited these days, so I didn't click on the links. I just responded to what you posted here.

Fair enough. Appreciate the candor.
 

Torgo

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oops, that should read "supplanting"

I think this is fast becoming an issue in MG and YA and will eventually find it's way into picture books as devices incorporate more than digital ink, but instead are audio/video capable and internet ready.

A quote from my blog post today on the issue:

Without a doubt, we are well along in a revolution where the written, printed word is becoming heavily encroached upon by images, video and audio content. And while traditional novels (both paper and ebook) will be around for a long time to come, they will have to compete more and more with stories that incorporate mixed media.

What do you think?

I don't buy it. I do think that there are interesting developments in the area of mobile phone apps; I think the iPad is intriguing; I think there's probably going to be a market in children's books on Leap-pad style Kindle analogues. And indeed I'm currently involved in developing those sorts of things, because we don't want to get left behind as that market takes shape... but there's a barrier involved to multimedia becoming the norm, or even seriously encroaching on print to the extent that you suggest.

It is, of course, money. First off, the price of the hardware required to run an ebook app still remains a factor in limiting the size of the market. That will most likely change over time, especially if it starts to become profitable. Print is cheap, an iPad isn't.

Second, producing multimedia products - even the sort that can be supported simply by the printing process - is not cheap. There are not many Hugo Cabrets, because it would be prohibitively expensive and risky to commission such a thing. I've commissioned full-colour graphic novels, and the art cost what I'd expect to pay for two or three debut YA novels - that's before paying the writer. A Cabret is, I would imagine, something that an exceptionally talented person brings to you fully-formed, not something that is planned and assembled as a 'product'. I've also commissioned audiobooks, and there there's a whole other set of bills to pay - readers, producers, musicians. (And so audiobooks and graphic novels cost the consumer a little more, too.)

An analogue to Cabret that included video or interactive elements would be even less likely to arrive on your desk out of the blue, because the costs are that much higher to the artist. To commission it, I think you'd end up producing something akin to TV, or film, or a video game, with comparable costs. If you look at what the children's book publishers are doing with picture book apps, you'll see little that is revolutionary: they are largely PDF readers with audio narration and occasionally a little animation. They're keeping plant costs as low as they can by reusing assets they've already paid for. Until a market properly takes shape and the accountants feel confident about revenues, nobody is really going to spend a lot of money up front.

Meanwhile, that money can easily be spent on cheaper purchases that we understand better - like novels and picture books, both of which appear to me to be extremely robust and democratic forms. And I don't really think there's direct competition between them and multimedia products - they're apples and oranges.
 

Medievalist

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We're not inventing a new form; multimedia digital books are the real illuminated manuscripts.
 

suki

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oops, that should read "supplanting"

I think this is fast becoming an issue in MG and YA and will eventually find it's way into picture books as devices incorporate more than digital ink, but instead are audio/video capable and internet ready.

A quote from my blog post today on the issue:

Without a doubt, we are well along in a revolution where the written, printed word is becoming heavily encroached upon by images, video and audio content. And while traditional novels (both paper and ebook) will be around for a long time to come, they will have to compete more and more with stories that incorporate mixed media.

What do you think?

Like JudScotKev, I'm just going off what is posted here. (I don't follow links for blog posts.)

Kids still do lots of things in addition to play with multi-media-related technology-based things. So...sure, as readers and apps become more common and more accesible to kids, then we will see more related and embedded media with stories. But I think books will still have a place in the world/market for a good time to come, and I trust that publishers will find ways to take advantage of the media and advise their authors. So, I'm content to write my stories, at least for now, and watch the advances and see.

And the time when the devices and formats are regularly in kids' hands, especially young children, I think are still a number of years away, and so I'll be interested to see where the industry leads but I hardly think it's an issue most writers need to worry about right now.

~suki
 
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pengwinz

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Thanks for chiming in Torgo. I appreciate your unique perspective, and agree with you that cost is and will be an issue, even for the least complex forms such as novel/GN mixes. But from my own observations, I am seeing a huge increase in the number of books available incorporating these mixed media, both in bookstores and libraries. Currently, buyers are willing to pay, ironically enough given the economy. But as to whether this is because of their relative novelty or not is unknown. It'll be interesting to see whether the trend sustains itself.

Where I think the greatest potential for impact in children's books is with picture books. Indeed, iPhone and iPad apps are indeed in the works (personally know of several developers engaged in this), but this is not where I think the greatest and most enduring impact will be felt. I agree we'll be looking at Leap-Pad like formats. I had earlier predicted/challenged developers to produce content for existing devices such as Wii and PlayStation (lower barrier to entry as most households already own these devices) that engage children in a more active way. In fact, one might consider some available games as children's stories in this respect. That's not exactly what I'm thinking, I would like to see more along these lines. In any case, as with the iPad and smart phones, we're seeing a trending towards all-in-ones. I don't think it'll be ten years before we see wireless connected, always on, pad computers that are capable of delivering hi-res video and audio, function as eReaders and workstations. It's not so hard then to imagine a child with that on his/her lap rather than a book.

I am not advocating for, nor predicting the demise of the traditional book formats we've enjoyed for years, but I do see encroachment of new technologies and methods for content delivery to children. I think this is a good thing. And I think it represents new opportunities for writers, illustrators and digital content developers.

Here are the predictions I made in March. Obviously, only time will bear out whether I'm close or way off base, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.

I'll make some predictions, and we'll see whether or nor they play out in the coming years.

1. Television will become the first digital device of choice for picture book stories, not ereaders. That's because,

2. Portable devices capable of delivering the quality of experience a paper picture book provides are a long ways off from being affordable.

3. First-to-market technologies that enable a child to navigate the story on-screen with a simple inexpensive hand-held device (controller) will set the standard.

4. Adaptation of, or development of apps for, current gaming systems, such as Wii and PlayStation, for picture books will likely be the first generation products.

5. Illustrators and publishers will need to rethink how they go about designing and publishing picture books to be more amenable to the new formats.

6. This will open up a whole new world of possibilities for how authors conceive and write their stories, not restrict them. Writers receptive to these changes will be more successful.
 

MsJudy

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10 or 15 years ago, there was a push towards "interactive storybooks" that came on CDs and could be played on a Mac or PC. My school invested in a handful of them.

Here's how they worked: Put in the CD. Listen to the narrator read a page of the story. Click on the words to hear them again. Click on anything in the picture and something silly happens.

The problem? The "something silly" usually had nothing to do with the story. Click on a flower and a bee buzzes out. Click on the cloud and a lightning bolt zaps.

Once you've explored all the silliness and listened to the story, you're done. It's not like a computer game that offers multiple levels of play. And the stories weren't all that great, so they weren't worth listening to again and again. Kids outgrew them really quickly. So for the money, either a traditional picture book (or several paper backs) or a computer game would be a better investment.

I haven't seen a school investing in "Living Books" in a long time. So there's one example of a digital medium that just didn't live up to its hype.

The problem is that if the new medium is more expensive, it has to offer something in the way of a more enriching experience. The iPhone and iPad apps have a potential huge market because they can travel in a purse or diaper bag. They're not an alternative to a book; they're an option when carrying a bunch of books isn't really feasible. So I predict they will find an audience if they're done well.

iPads and ebooks will eventually find a huge market in schools. Kids are breaking their backs carrying textbooks around, and textbooks are already hellishly expensive. So uploading a semester's worth of sources to an ereader and having the kid carry that around instead will make a lot of sense. I know one of our local private schools is already trying it. And it also makes sense because nobody is going to miss the "feel" of a textbook the way they will the feel of a picture book. Plus you can include the weblinks right in the text, and keep the information updated in a much more efficient manner. California already requires adopted texts to be available on CD, so this will only be the next logical step.

But for novels and picture books... Right now, the only real advantage to the digital media is convenience. The ebook experience doesn't offer anything tangibly different or better. The first artists who figure out something really revolutionary... I'm looking forward to that.
 

MJWare

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I read the whole Skeleton Creek book without once checking out the website or videos (until I finished it).

I don't think these media "enhanced" novels will replace print. They just don't offer the same immersion. The last thing I want when I read a book is to be taken out of the experience.

They may have their place (i.e. reluctant readers, non-fiction educational), but, unless someone comes up with some better way to present them, I think they'll remain a niche product.
 

Medievalist

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I think there are some interstices -- the earlier versions of Rand and Robyn Miller's Myst, for instance, was part novella/part game.
 

pengwinz

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I don't think these media "enhanced" novels will replace print. They just don't offer the same immersion. The last thing I want when I read a book is to be taken out of the experience.

I agree wholeheartedly. There's something hardwired in our brains that makes the book an unimprovable technology. BUT, having said that, it's also human nature to seek new experiences. Cost considerations aside (which I do think are valid, though we will learn to overcome them if the market advocates), multi/mixed media content is already here and is extending and broadening its reach in traditional markets. Here's another take on the issue by Janet Reid, which essentially backs up my own opinions on the matter:

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2010/05/bea-why-small-publsihing-will-save.html
 

MsJudy

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I'm not convinced "enhancing" books is such a whoop-de-do all-fired great idea. But I do find it interesting how RPG video and computer games are becoming more and more like novels... My son is really into Final Fantasy and games like that. As the graphics and memory capacities improve, the games are becoming more and more like novels you play. Characters, settings, plots, reversals of fortune, upping the stakes...etc. It gets to the point that I hate to let him play when I'm not around, because I miss the next "chapter!"

That's where I see the lines really being blurred. Is it a game with a plot? A movie you can interact with? A graphic novel that's animated and keeps score? All of the above?
 

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