Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the future of digital reading and writing

One of my recent columnist crushes is Roy Blount Jr., who wrote a piece about the Kindle for the NYT that states bluntly the same concern every writer has: how is the digital world going to screw us? His answer, for now, is that the rights for audio books need some sort of protection. At the present time, there is no court ruling on how digital devices may use audio rights.

A sort of poem about Born Digital projects by Stephanie Strickland. (via Silliman's blog)

ShortReads launches today. It's like GoodReads, but designed for mobile devices. The idea of using one program on any device is a good one, but I will admit that I think there are better ways to do such a thing. For example, buying directly from a publisher would put you in contact with the community that makes the books you like happen. There are ways to nurture this relationship to work to both parties' advantages. And having a distributor between the two can have disadvantages (cuts the amount the publisher and writer are making, for instance) as well as advantages (I've posted before that we don't have The Perfect book-sharing social network).

A year ago, I would have loved this. Since I tried to enter the industry, it makes me nervous. I don't want a program like this to be successful until it incorporates all of the elements it has the potential to use, because consumers will resist it and it will be even harder to win back their trust. Already the word "e-book" makes people think of the ugly first model of the Kindle, and if Authors' Guilds and writers become convinced that they're losing business to technology, the digital world will lose its most valuable readers and its most creative writers. If we're going to do this, we need to do it well. We need to sort out rights before we lose writers, and we need to add multimedia elements that enhance the reading experience, instead of reading glorified (and expensive) PDFs. Where's the excitement in that?

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