The IPad doesn’t look revolutionary, does it? It’s been called a big Iphone, as if that somehow lessens its impact. As if lack of originality automatically equates to a bad product. But if it does what its been advertised to do it really will change everything about the publishing industry.
I’m not just talking about business, though that will certainly change, I’m talking about the presentation of books, comic or otherwise, I’m talking about the writing itself. About the way different genres are respected and viewed. The difference between what people want to read and the books they feel they should read.
Stigma. There’s a stigma to reading science fiction and fantasy. That we don’t interact with the real world, that somehow those readers are still reading childish books they should have given up years ago. Adults wanted to read Harry Potter but they didn’t want the ‘silly’ childish covers of the regular books so the publisher gave them alternates. Covers that looked like any other kind of book. Apparently readers didn’t want others to think less of them for reading that kind of book. A book they enjoyed in a genre they enjoyed. Remove the book itself and all you have left is words. Who is to know what kind of book you are reading? And if that matters to you, and you’ve chosen to read books that you don’t really enjoy in order to impress others, then now with an Ereader such as an Ipad, you can read what you damn well want. No one looking over your shoulder. No one lifting up the cover and sneering at your childishness. That’s even more important with comic book and comic strips. Even I, being pretty much inured to mockery of that sort, choose not to read those kinds of books in public. As if reading them is something of which to be ashamed. And yet it’s just another way of telling a story through a combination of words and still pictures. The combination of the two can do some things that the written word alone cannot do. Such as humor. Yes, there are books that are very funny, that make me laugh out loud, but those books are few and far between. Most that try humor purely through the written word fail to deliver on that promise to any great degree. Because it’s damn difficult, not because they suck. But most humor comic strips succeed in eliciting a chuckle or a laugh on a fairly regular basis. A more consistently effective method of communicating humor. So if people want a smile and a laugh on the way to work, a novel is not quite as effective as a comic strip. And yet I see more people reading novels, and unfunny ones at that. Might they not change their ways and start the day with a smile instead if they didn’t have to worry about how it looked to others? Over time more people may read comics and comic strips and over more time perhaps the stigma that currently exists may disappear entirely.
That changes perception but how does the method of presentation change the publication itself?
Writers know a lot of words. Many love to show off with that knowledge but are constrained by their readers. Readers like to know what is being communicated. But if a reader can click on any word and see its definition writers might be tempted to show off a bit more. I believe this would be a bad thing as clarity should be paramount when trying to communicate an idea or emotion but I can certainly see some writers taking advantage of that technology. And in some cases it may even be appropriate. Imagine a Shakespeare play with explanations of passages, links to articles discussing those passages, translations of words. Instant access to an actor reading that passage with the correct intonation that helps indicate meaning. Might be ponderous, but might also be workable and exciting. You finish reading a book and immediately go to read the reviews of others. It may change your perception, positively or negatively, of that work. A feeling of community with that author and their other readers.
Another thing that I think is almost certain to change are book covers. Publishers are going to want simple more iconic images because of how small the covers might appear on the screen (perhaps a list of three or four per screen, maybe 2 inches tall?). The simpler designs will stand out more than the ones with busy designs as the details of the busy design will be lost. But then when blown up to full screen size the simpler designs will look a little boring so I can see the publishers going to a two tiered cover system; one simple iconic design that when expanded to fill the screen reveals interesting depth and detail. Fluid covers. Moving covers. It will be interesting.
One of my pet peeves is that a lot of books seem padded these days. Mystery novels for years were under 200 pages but are now routinely over that number and the way that extra length is accomplished is usually through the exploration of the character of the protagonist, antagonist, and supporting cast. Some of which is needed, some of which is good, but some of which bogs down the story and slows it to a crawl. I’ve been told publishers go with the extra length for several reasons, one is a bigger spine takes up more space on a shelf and is more likely to be noticed and the other is that readers tend to think they’re getting better value by getting a longer book. A 200 page book for 9 dollars, or a 400 page book for 10 dollars. The second looks like a better deal, as if you’re getting two books for the price of one. With both of those reasons gone with the popularization of Ebooks I wonder if books will again find their natural lengths. I hope so, though I tend to worry that the lack of publishing costs might lead to even more bloat. As in a 2000 page book would be ridiculous on the shelf and normally the publisher would want it cut way down, partly to improve readability and partly to lower costs but with the costs out of the equation, and with people not being confronted with the thickness of the book (seeing a note at the bottom of the page saying it’s 2000 pages is a hell of a lot different than seeing the reality in front of you). It might be good, it might be bad, but it certainly changes things.
How does the addition of color change things? For books I think there are some that might experiment with color as mood enhancers. Blue text with a cream background to help calm the reader when going through a calm passage, slowly changing to a deep red with a metallic background when danger rears its head. Not saying that’s a good thing, mind you, I do think a writer should be able to pull that off with just words but I can see the experiment being tried. And I can see it being embraced by younger readers who would be used to reading on a tablet and might prefer the addition and be more accepting of it. For me, for this comic, it means that one day I will have to add color in order to compete with the vast majority of comics that will be in color. I think black and white has nice contrasts and works pretty well to communicate the idea. Perhaps even communicates the idea and the joke better than color, but without color I have a feeling readers would look upon it as unfinished, rather than looking upon it as a design choice.
Which means I have to con someone into coloring Dodge The Bullet one of these days.
Perhaps if I smile and whistle while coloring someone will come by and offer me an apple core to take over the job.
Stranger things have happened.