She forgot all her troubles in the joy of peering in the
wireless set, however . . . The Poet showed her how to turn the dials,
and told her where Ireland and Scotland and Berlin and Prague could be
found, and was able to allow her to listen to Paris talking . . .
"It's like magic!" and Jinty eyed the portable set with awe that was almost fear.
(Elsie Oxenham, The Reformation of Jinty, Chambers, 1933, p146)
A Different Form of Book looked at the arguments surrounding the development of electronic versions of existing printed books. However, the nature of the hypermedia- or ebook extends beyond the printed book, in a change which is as fundamental and significant as the previous move from handwritten documents to printed texts. As feminist critic Dale Spender points out:
Some high-culture parts of the print tradition won't carry
over to the twenty-first century . . . For the people who have held these
writers to be centrally important to their own development and that of
society, this will be a great loss.
There is no denying this. It will be as it was for the monks when the rise of the book meant the loss of those beautiful, illuminated manuscripts that were the repository of human wisdom. In retrospect, few of us would believe that society lost out, that humanity was worse off once the book made its appearance. It's a matter of weighing the gains against the losses.
In fact, it is more appropriate to view the move from printed to e-books in terms of change rather than gains and losses, all change necessarily involving both. Spender adds later that:
. . . the end of the manuscript also meant the rise of
the book. It made possible the emergence of fiction, the growth of a reading
public, the empowerment of millions of people, the development of print
culture . . .
No doubt the same process will operate with the electronic media.
Future generations will be able to look back and evaluate the book in the way that we look at manuscripts. They will agree that it was a wonderful medium, a marvellous source of information, entertainment and illumination, and that there were many who were sad to see it go as the primary medium.
But it made way for the computer and the television - for the electronic culture and all its achievements.
Media & Structure
The first change in the nature of the ebook from its printed form lies in the ebook's ability to incorporate sound and moving images alongside text and still images. This ability is currently restricted by the storage capacity of hard disks, floppy disks, CD Roms etc and the speed by which computers can access information, meaning that, in 1997, most moving images are played in small "windows" rather than taking up the whole of the screen (in book terms, the image seldom fills the page). However, this does not detract from the fact that e-books already have the power to "show" as well as "tell" information in a way which printed books do not, combining sound, text and still and moving images to create a new [hyper] medium. Spender points out that:
The attractions of the CD-ROM disks - print only - are
obvious. But the attractions of CD-ROM multimedia - print, sound, image
etc - are irresistible. Not only could you read what Hamlet said to Polonius
on a CD-ROM multimedia disk; you could see the actors and hear them as
well. You could choose, from a variety of performances, whichever production
appealed to you. If it were interactive multimedia, you could make your
own version of the drama . . .
[Printed] Books simply cannot compete with such an information medium.
The second change in the nature of the ebook is that, while printed books are separate and isolated, e-books which are stored and accessed online can be linked to each other via hypertext links. George Landow points out that:
Many who first encounter the notion of hypertext assume that linking does it all, and in an important sense they are correct: linking is the most important fact about hypertext, particularly as it contrasts to the world of print technology.
Landow associates the development of hypertext with developments in post-war literary theory, particularly in France.
Hypertext, an information technology consisting of individual blocks of text, or lexias, and the electronic links that join them, has much in common with recent literary and critical theory. For example, like much recent work by poststructuralists, such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, hypertext reconceives conventional, long-held assumptions about authors and readers and the texts they write and read. Electronic linking, which provides one of the defining features of hypertext, also embodies Julia Kristeva's notions of intertextuality, Mikhail Bakhtin's emphasis upon multivocality, Michel Foucault's conceptions of networks of power, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's ideas of rhizomatic, "nomad thought".
One way of envisaging the effects that hypertext links
may have on the way in which we read electronic versions of traditional
printed books is to look at the example of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's Chalet
School series, containing 59 books originally published by W & R Chambers
between 1925 and 1970. It is unlikely that Chalet School readers will be
able to obtain all the books in the series, because some books are both
out of print and had small original print runs in paperback and hardback
versions; readers outside the UK will have particular problems. Yet many
readers are keen to read every book, because they will encounter a familiar
world and repeat their original enjoyment with each new story. In addition,
the fictional world of the Chalet School encompasses two generations of
schoolgirls as the original pupils grow up, leave school, return to teach
and/or get married and have daughters who in turn became pupils; so readers
want to know what happened next - or previously, depending at which point
they first encounter the series. And most of the books are characterised
by references to previous incidents in the series, with the titles of the
books where these incidents occurred given as footnotes, encouraging readers'
At the time of writing, 1997, readers seeking hard-to-obtain
texts can turn only to libraries and to fellow collectors to borrow them,
or to secondhand bookshops, car boot fairs and dealers' catalogues to buy
them. They then have to search through each book manually to find the incident
referred to in the first text. But, as previously discussed,
an electronic "online" library
accessible via a computer, modem and telephone line would have every book
in the series "in stock". Readers could access, read and print
their own copy of the incident - or the whole book which has been referenced
- via a hypertext link incorporated into the reference itself.
After reading books from the Chalet School series, many
readers decide that they would like to read other books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.
Most of these books are very rare indeed, but using an electronic online
library, readers could access and read copies via hypertext links incorporated
into a bibliography of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's work. Many Chalet School
readers also decide that they would like to read girls' school stories
by other authors, and a smaller number want to read boys' school stories,
biographies and autobiographies of school-story authors, critical works
and books about related subjects such as the history of real girls' schools.
Using an electronic library, readers would be able to follow existing hypertext
links (created by previous readers or "librarians") to these
other texts, or would be able to create their own links to them.
The third change in the nature of the ebook is that, unlike printed books, e-books are not limited to a linear structure. Rather than having chapters as with a linear, printed book, it is more appropriate to describe each self-contained unit of text within them as a lexia. As George Landow points out:
hypertext is composed of bodies of linked texts that have no a priori axis of organisation. In other words, hypertext has no fixed centre, and although this absence can create problems for the reader and writer, it also means that anyone who uses hypertext makes his or her own interests the de facto organising principle (or centre) for the investigation at the moment. One experiences hypertext as an infinitely decenterable and recenterable system.
The non-linear nature of the hypermedia text is what distinguishes it from the more restrictive "multimedia", which also combines written words, sound, and still and moving images electronically. Bob Cotton and Richard Oliver explain that hypermedia:
is a medium that offers "random access"; it
has no physical beginning, middle or end . . . an expressive medium unlike
any other we have experienced before: an expressive and ubiquitous medium
giving sensory form and human meaning to the ever growing, invisible world
of digital electronics which increasingly permeates every aspect of our
. . . Ted Nelson coined the expression "hypermedia" in the 70s in order to describe a new media form that utilised the power of the computer to store, retrieve and display information in the form of pictures, text, animations and sound. He had already used the prefix "hyper" to describe a system of non-sequential writing: "text that branches and allow choices to the reader". In "hypertext" textual material could be interlinked, providing a system which would break down traditional subject classifications and allow non-computer-literate to follow their own lines of enquiry across the whole field of knowledge.
What effect does this have on content of the text itself? Landow has concluded that with fiction, the non-linear, linked nature of the ebook:
calls into question (1) fixed sequence, (2) definite beginning
and ending, (3) a story's "certain definite magnitude", and (4)
the conception of unity or wholeness associated with all these other concepts.
In hypertext fiction, therefore, one can expect individual forms, such as plot, characterization, and setting, to change, as will genres or literary kinds produced by congeries of these techniques.
One thing an ebook author might do is to offer, for example, a number of different endings. Landow claims that:
In a hypertext environment a lack of linearity does not destroy narrative. In fact, since readers always, but particularly in this environment, fabricate their own structures, sequences, and meanings, they have surprisingly little trouble reading a story or reading for a story. Obviously, some parts of the reading experience seem very different from reading a printed novel or a short story, and reading hypertext fiction provides some of the experience of the new orality that both McLuhan and Ong have predicted. Although the reader of hypertext fiction shares some experiences, one supposes, with the audience of listeners who heard oral poetry, this active reader-author has more in common with the bard, who constructed meaning and narrative from fragments provided by someone else, by another author or by many other authors.
The linked and non-linear nature of the ebook also means that the boundaries between different texts are broken down. As the Chalet School example shows, to an extent these boundaries are illusory, made real by the separate nature of printed texts. However, linking does produce a profound change in the nature of the text. As Delany and Landow point out:
At the same time that the individual hypertext block has looser, or less determining bonds to other blocks from the same work (to use a terminology that now threatens to become obsolete), it can also bond freely with text created by other authors. . . . As an individual block loses its physical and intellectual separation from others when linked electronically to them, it also finds itself dispersed into them. . . . One effect is to weaken and even destroy altogether any sense of textual uniqueness, for what is essential in any text appears intermingled with other texts.
When we see the ebook, then, we may find it hard to recognise.
The fourth change in the nature of the ebook lies in
its potential for readers to customise their versions, by adding notes
or links or by making changes to the text. This is possible because of
the "virtual" nature of the ebook; its form is not restricted
to the original number of words or pages, while its "binding"
can be removed and re-placed. The way in which each ebook is produced
will determine whether in fact it can be customised by readers, but there
is the potential, for example, for the Chalet School readers who make up
stories about their favourite characters (see 9:III. The Fans of Girls'
School Stories, 1990s Women Fans for details)
to add them to electronic versions of the books, while those who dislike
certain elements of the books - for example the plays
- could delete them from their copies, and those who dislike the way a
plot develops could rewrite the stories.
At best, this can be seen as empowering the reader; at worst, it could be seen as allowing censorship and the destruction of the author's work. But it is questionable whether e-books allow censorship or merely make it more explicit: in print a reader still skips over parts of the book which she doesn't like; and a mother can still control her daughter's reading or access to the television. And as David Kolb argues convincingly, the ability to link does not mean that the "original" work is left unrecognisable.
Hypertext does make totally closed works impossible. New links can move in and reuse pieces of my writing, but whatever form I gave my writing remains available. It cannot dominate the hypertext space and it cannot claim to totalize the meaning and role of the individual lexias, but it remains followable . . . boundaries are not erased by hypertext; they are made permeable. Form and genre lose their presumed absoluteness in hyperspace, but they do not dissolve into atomized text or bland mixtures. Rather, they stand in tension with other uses and other partial wholes.
All of these changes in the nature of the ebook will have a profound effect on the reading experience. Readers will have to learn new skills, replacing our familiarity with print conventions such as page-turning with electronic conventions such as scrolling text. As Spender writes:
The emergence of cyberspace challenges the horizons and
the habits of print-based culture . . .
. . . we are probably the last of the purely print-proficient.
We are the last generation to be reared within a culture in which print is the primary information medium. Because we have grown up and become skilled in a print-based community, we have developed certain ways of making sense of the world. We are, to some extent, what print has made us. And now we have to change.
Not surprisingly, we are a generation prone to suffer from acute information anxiety . . .
For those of us who were reared with print, the continual effort to learn the new technologies will be an ongoing fact of life.
But the impact of the ebook on the reading experience goes far beyond the need to become familiar with new forms of reading devices. The ebook's ability to include sound and moving images alongside still images and written words, and the opportunity it offers to develop new ways of structuring and reading texts - for example by allowing readers to choose their own paths through the text, to add links to other texts and to make notes and otherwise to alter the text - marks a fundamental development in the history of the book and of reading. Delany and Landow have pointed out that:
Although conventional reading habits apply within each block, once one starts to follow links from one block to another new rules and new experiences apply. Instead of facing a stable object - the book - enclosing an entire text and held between two hands, the hypertext reader sees only the image of a single block of text on the computer screen. Behind that image lies a variable textual structure that can be represented on the screen in different ways, according to the reader's choice of links to follow. Metaphors that can help us to visualise the structure "behind" the screen include a network, a tree diagram, a nest of Chinese boxes, or a Web.
They add that:
Once one can jump from, say, the opening section of Paradise Lost to a passage in Book 12, thousands of lines "away", or to a French source for the opening, or to a modern scholarly comment, then, the discreteness of texts which print culture creates, has radically decreased and even disappeared. One may argue that the hypertext linking of such passages does no more than copy the way one actually experiences texts in the act of reading; nonetheless, when the act of reading is given a new dimension of speed and control by electronic means, it has begun to change its nature.
Landow further points out that, potentially:
hypertext involves a more active reader, one who not only chooses his or her reading paths but also has the opportunity of reading as an author; that is, at any time the person reading can assume an authorial role and either attach links or add text to the text being read.
In fact the reader/viewer/listener will often have no choice but to be active because of the sheer quantity of information which they encounter, forcing them to make choices whether they are happy to be led by the author or not. Landow adds that:
hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice.
Rather the voice is always that distilled from the combined experience
of the momentary focus, the lexia one presently reads, and the continually
forming narrative of one's reading path.
. . . Hypertext, in other words, provides an infinitely re-centerable system whose provisional point of focus depends upon the reader, who becomes a truly active reader in yet another sense. One of the fundamental characteristics of hypertext is that it is composed of bodies of linked texts that have no primary axis of organisation . . . anyone who uses hypertext makes his or her own interests the de facto organizing principle (or center) for the investigation at the moment.
Whatever emotions this prospect may provoke in older readers, Spender argues that young people are more than ready for the challenge.
If ever there was a passive medium in which the audience
was led, it has to be that of print. The young are already programmed for
multimedia, given all the sound, image, and print sources that are simultaneously
pouring into their sensory systems, as they have the TV on, play their
music, and do their school assignments - one of the few written tasks they
are still required to undertake.
These are tomorrow's readers.
The fluid nature of the hypermedia text, with its many
different versions and the ability of readers to add notes and comments
by means of hypertext links, marks the fifth fundamental change in the
nature of the book in the move from the use of print to electronic means
of disseminating it. Print encourages us to develop fixed ideas, since
the text and the ideas enclosed within it cannot be altered. As Delany
and Landow point out: "the text is more than just the shadow or trace
of a thought already shaped, in a literate culture, the textual structures
that have evolved over the centuries determine thought almost as powerfully
as the primal structure that shapes all expression, language."
Spender argues that: "In looking back on print culture, the main consensus
will be that it was the period of standardisation. It gave rise to a mindset
of regularity and repeatability (the basis of scientific evidence)."
In contrast, electronic text encourages developing thought, modified and
extended over time, whilst also overcoming the access barriers inherent
in a spoken debate which is limited to one time and geographical area and,
most importantly, providing a record.
The Effects On Authorship
As a result of these other changes in the nature of the ebook, the sixth change in the nature of the ebook is its effect on authorship. One possibility is, as Spender suggests, that given the potential which electronic media offers for anyone to become an author, the professional author as we know them could disappear.
With the democratisation of authorship, where (on the
net) everyone can have a turn, will there still be a place for some people
to earn a living from writing? Or will the whole enterprise of authorship
lose its status and credibility . . .
No one can make definitive predictions for a distant future; too much is changing too quickly.
It is unlikely, however, that writing will become purely a leisure activity, perhaps indulged in by those who have more leisure than others, since this is to ignore the function of writing as a commodity and the selling of writing as a market. There are also qualitative issues such as skill, talent and the attentive/appreciative capacities of the audience to be taken into account. Spender acknowledges this when she quickly goes on to reassure that:
within the foreseeable future there is obviously a role for the writer: as the creator of characters and storylines in CD-ROMs and narrative games; as the author of electronic books; and as a script writer on a multimedia team. These are only the initial possibilities.
Authors will certainly need to develop new skills if they
wish to take advantage of the ebook's potential. However, in the last
ten years many writers have happily made the transition from using pen
and paper and then transcribing their work using a typewriter to writing
directly onscreen using a wordprocessing programme.
This has had no visible effect on the content or presentation of the end
product, the traditional book; the transition has been made almost entirely
because it has suited authors to do so (the other reason has been that,
with the widespread use of electronic sub-editing and "typesetting"
software, publishers prefer to receive copy on disk). And those who have
not been willing to make the transition are still publishing books which
have been written in pencil on paper - they simply pay someone else to
wordprocess the manuscript for them, as writers have traditionally paid
others to type.
Authors are likely to have to develop visual skills, encompassing
typography, layout, photography etc, if they are to thrive in the age of
the ebook, but this should be viewed as a beneficial development. Landow
points out that, in print publishing, both writers and publishers resist
writers becoming involved in decisions about typography and layout, but
adds that: "When told that one should not avail oneself of some aspect
or form of empowerment, particularly as a writer, one should ask why".
He goes on to discuss the fact that the "prejudice against the inclusion
of visual information in text derives from print technology". He stresses
the important visual nature of hypermedia and the importance of authors
becoming visually competent, at least with regard to the appearance and
presentation of their text.
Theoretically, e-books allow an author with the necessary
skills to publish their work themselves without any input from elsewhere;
this project being a case in point. It is more likely, though, that most
authors will continue to work as part of a team to realise their vision.
Essentially, as Landow points out: "Hypermedia, like cinema and video
or opera, is a team production."
Authors already work with a publishing team including an editor and designer
to produce printed books, so this is less of a change than is at first
apparent. For much of this century, too, writers have worked with large
teams including a producer, designer and director to "publish"
films and television programmes (although ebook authors would benefit
from obtaining more control and a higher status than scriptwriters currently
Even if an author self-publishes, though, a high technical
quality can be achieved with the software which is now commercially available.
For example, Bob Cotton and Richard Oliver, writing before the development
of the World Wide Web, point out that one person "can now sit at a
single workstation and on that one machine orchestrate the complete span
of media. It is possible to move seamlessly from typography to animation
to illustration to image scanning to video editing to sound mixing, and
at the same machine produce an entire interactive programme ready to be
mastered and stamped on to CDRom, or networked to other machines."
How will the nature of the author's work change, as opposed
to the new skills which they will need? One possibility is the potential
which electronic authorship offers for multi-authorship, for collaborating
with other writers as well as being part of a team which includes a designer
and editor. Multi-authorship is made possible first by the wide range of
structural possibilities which the ebook offers, making it far easier
to combine the work of two or more authors. Authors can also work on the
same text across continents and time zones, using email and the Internet.
In the future, multi-authorship could develop analogously to collaborative
cinema production, jazz improvisation, sophisticated conversation or music
Cotton and Oliver point out that authors' relationship with their readers will also change.
The nature of storytelling changed fundamentally with the invention of print technology . . . from being a group activity, with the story-teller in direct contact with the audience . . . storytelling became a solitary, one-way communication between the author and the reader . . . [with the notion of] the audience as passive consumers. Hypermedia, however, offers a return to the idea of an audience as active participators. It challenges the whole notion of the author-reader relationship that we have grown used to, and creates the opportunity for another form of dialogue. Without diminishing the role of the author/director, it fundamentally changes it, establishing the new role of "information architect", whose task is the orchestration of the components of a story or body of knowledge, so that an environment is created in which the user will take an active part.
Landow writes that the very concept of authorship is altered with hypermedia.
Like contemporary critical theory, hypertext reconfigures
- rewrites - the author in several obvious ways. First of all, the figure
of the hypertext author approaches, even if it does not entirely merge
with, that of the reader; the functions of reader and writer become more
deeply entwined with each other than ever before.
. . . Hypertext and contemporary theory both reconceive the author in a second way. As we shall observe when we examine the notion of collaborative writing, both agree in configuring the author of the text as a text.
. . . One of the most important of these ideas involves treating the self of author and reader not simply as a (print) text but as a hypertext.
. . . The problem for anyone who yearns to retain older conceptions of authorship or of the author function lies in the fact that radical changes in textuality produce radical changes in the author figure derived from that textuality. Lack of textual autonomy, like lack of textual centredness, immediately reverberates through conceptions of authorship as well. Similarly, the unboundedness of the new textuality disperses the author as well.
In a real sense, the ebook "author" can include the people who commented on the work as it developed, the designers, programmers etc who work as part of the authorial team and the writers responsible for texts which are linked to the main text. In the case of the Virtual Worlds of Girls hypertext cluster, "author" would then include the people who commented on drafts of the hyperthesis, the people who advised or assisted technically, the other authors of the Bettany Press texts, those whose writing is included in quotes and in excerpts from fanzines, those who supplied photographs . . . as well as the reader who chooses their own path through the hypertext and adds their own notes and links. This in turn could affect what we perceive as being texts. As Delany and Landow point out:
In print technology, we normally have access to the published version of books but not to the full reports by referees, author's contract, manuscript before it has undergone copyediting and so on. Conventionally, we do not consider such materials to be part of the book. Electronic linking has the potential, however, radically to redefine the nature of the text, by connecting the so-called "main text" to a host of ancillary ones (that then lose the status of ancillary-ness.) Who, then, will control access to such materials: the author; the publisher, or the reader?
Delany and Landow also point out that many academic works are already produced by multiple authors and other works are dependent on the works of further authors, but that this is often not acknowledged, particularly within the humanities.
attitudes fostered by print technology are also responsible for maintaining exaggerated notions of authorial uniqueness and ownership that often convey a distorted impression of "original" contributions in the humanities. The sciences take a relatively expansive attitude of authorship and consequently of text ownership, whereas the humanities take a far more restricted one that emphasizes individuality, separation and uniqueness - often at the expense of creating a vastly distorted view of the connection of a particular text to those that have preceded it.
How will all these changes affect new and existing authors? Spender writes that:
On one side, we have those who are - to put it bluntly
- being deskilled. They are having their privilege and persuasive powers
undermined as they, and their work, cease to be valued in the way that
they have been in past centuries. They feel quite strongly that their passing
is society's loss.
On the other side is a new breed of authors. They can function in the electronic media. They embrace it; they are enthusiastic about its amazing possibilities. They see the disk as the symbol of a new world, and are not at all threatened by the prospect of being deskilled. They see the birth of innovative and widespread forms of authorship as a bonus for traditional writers, and society's gain as well.
From a personal point of view, I take the middle ground.
On the one hand, I am one of the new breed of authors who can function
in and is enthusiastic about electronic media. On the other hand, I am
only too aware that writers without access to the technology - particularly
women writers, disabled writers, writers from ethnic minorities and working-class
writers - will be further marginalised. As an academic, Spender was given
free access to the necessary hardware, software and training to gain the
skills she needed to read and write in the electronic media. As a professional
writer with a good credit record, I was able to get access to a loan to
purchase hardware, software and training to make my own transition. But
what place will there be in the electronic media for the previously unpublished,
brilliant but financially poor writer, who has no connections with the
academy? Will authorship really be democratised and the distinctions between
professionals and others blurred, or will the existing divisions simply
be replaced by new ones?
The Effects On Publishing
Equally problematic is the seventh change in the nature
of the ebook; its potential for both greater accessibility and more restricted
accessibility than the printed book. Returning to
the example of the young unemployed men in Teesside,
I do not doubt that their lives would have been enriched if they had had
access to the literature of the world. More importantly, however, their
lack of literacy prevented them from participating fully in a society where
the ability to read is increasingly essential to obtain work. Although
they were visually literate, the Hollywood films which they loved - Hollywood
films necessarily formed the bulk of their viewing - were characterised
by a basic narrative structure, slight characterisation and a lack of introspection;
like television programmes, music videos and computer games, they left
little space for the imagination. Similarly, these young men's world view
was limited by the broadcast "soundbites" which are best suited
to discussing politics and current and social affairs in a visual medium.
E-books offer us the potential
to make the written word available across continents and over time to an
infinite number of people, translated into different languages including
braille and sign and those not yet recorded. E-books can read themselves
to us using speech facilities, and can even teach us to read them using
learning programmes. However, access to e-books is currently dependent
on privilege to a much greater extent than the printed book. The young
men in Teesside could not read the printed books to which they did have
access - for example in public libraries - but could also not afford the
high costs which access to e-books currently entails, even though the books
themselves would have been more accessible. Information technology allows
us access to more information than our ancestors could dream of; lack of
literacy and/or lack of access to the technology recreates an ancient divide
between those who can read and have access to the written word, and those
who cannot and do not.
If a cheap, light, durable and waterproof reading device does become available, though, how will print publishing adapt to the ebook? Many publishers have investigated the opportunities offered by e-publishing, although in 1997 only a few have entered into the marketplace. In the UK, Oxford University Press concentrated on scientific publishing, relying on the proven superiority of the electronic medium for data retrieval, while Dorling Kindersley concentrated on interactive children's books and Penguin, though promising a more eclectic range, was developing its projects out of house. In general, print publishers have been cautious, while software developers have, not surprisingly, opted for more visual packages. However, Cotton and Oliver point out that:
New technologies have already changed the nature of "publishing". With videotape, on-line databases, teletext, electronic mail, desktop publishing, floppy disks and compact data discs such as CD Rom, distribution is no longer limited to printed words on paper.
One reason for publishers' caution
is the impossibility of maintaining existing "copyright" protection
in the world of the ebook. Instead of one version of the text, with distribution
controlled by the number of copies printed, the ebook allows an infinite
number of versions and an infinite number of copies to be made. For example,
the online version of the Virtual Worlds of Girls hypertext is characterised
by its fluid, changing nature, since links can be made to other texts and
new texts added at any time. At intervals, copies can be made and stored
on CD or some other device; these are the editions, characterised by their
static, unlinked nature (although links can be encoded which the buyer
could activate if they put their own copy online). If the reader customises
a copy which they have made on the hard drive of their computer, it is
then unique to them and they have become the reader/author described by
Landow - and they could also copy and distribute this version as well as
sending their material/links for inclusion in the primary version.
This highlights another problem, that of deciding who is the author of the text and therefore owns the copyright in the first place. Landow points out that:
The presence of multiple reading paths, which shift the balance between reader and writer, thereby creating Barthes's readerly text, also creates a text that exists far less independently of commentary, analogues, and traditions than does printed text. This kind of democratization not only reduces the hierarchical separation between the so-called main text and the annotation, which now exist as independent texts, reading units or lexias, but it also blurs the boundaries of individual texts. In doing so, electronic linking reconfigures our experience of both author and authorial property, and this reconception of these ideas promises to affect our conceptions of both the authors (and authority) of texts we study and of ourselves as authors.
Spender adds that:
For centuries we learned to accept the originality of the author as real, but recent questioning begins to make the foundations look somewhat shaky. It could be argued that the only way authors get ideas is from other people's ideas. Writers develop styles from studying other writers' styles. They adapt, select, synthesise, from all that has gone before, and from all that surrounds them. It makes the theft of "original" ideas something of a nonsense.
And in addition to these practical and philosophical difficulties
of enforcing copyright, there is a widespread belief among current users
of the Internet
that information should be freely available,
which makes many opposed to the very concept of copyright enforcement.
But a number of options are being considered,
and the most likely scenario is that, in the future, authors will be be
paid royalties for "published copies" of e-books (eg CD Roms
or similar storage devices), while e-books accessed via the telephone system
will be paid for in a similar fashion to the UK's existing Public Lending
Right system of payment for library use.
Ultimately, it is economics that will usher in the ebook.
First, there is the fact that electronic publishing processes are cheaper,
and can be more easily tailored to the market.
Second, it is more than likely that the change from the printed to the
ebook will give a major boost to the publishing industry. The novelty
value alone may bring more people to reading,
along with the ebook's ability to read itself and to adjust its type size
to suit individuals. Then, in the music industry, the move from vinyl records
to audio CDs has resulted in many recordings which were made earlier in
the twentieth century being republished in CD format, since music lovers have
demanded to play their old favourites in the new mode. As e-books are accepted,
readers are likely to demand that their old favourites are also made available
electronically - and this of course will be a much cheaper proposition
for publishers than reprinting. This should ease publishers into the ebook
market and give them the confidence to explore the new forms which the
ebook offers. If publishers pass on the lower cost of producing CDs compared
to printed books to buyers - which record companies have not done with
their buyers - it is likely that the "book" market will both
recover and expand.
The key, as with print publishing, will be to remember that, despite the hype around hypermedia, content is still paramount. Publishers would do well to heed cyberpunk author and pioneer Bruce Sterling's warning to software designers that:
I don't think you can last by meeting the contemporary public taste, the taste from the last quarterly report. I don't think you can last by following demographics and carefully meeting expectations. I don't know many works of art that last that are condescending. I don't know many works of art that last that are deliberately stupid.
The dominance of visual forms of entertainment over the past 15 years has led many media commentators to assume that we are moving from a textual or literate society to a visual or post-literate society without this causing them great concern; mass literacy is perceived as a twentieth-century phenomenon. George Landow points out that this belief has been shaped by cultural criticism:
In emphasizing electronic, non-computer media, such as radio, television, and film, Baudrillard, Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, McLuhan, and others similarly argue against the future importance of print-based information technology, often from the vantage point of those who assume that analogue media employing sound and motion as well as visual information will radically reconfigure our expectations of human nature and human culture.
What is certainly true is that the image-based text now
plays at least an equal role with the written text, and that, even in the
developed world, most young people are either equally competent in both
mediums or have a greater degree of visual literacy. But, at the same time,
the written word is the most effective means of conveying information,
and access to that information conveys economic, financial and political
power. The written word is also a visual means of conveying information;
it is simply that the code is more difficult to understand. In a world
where the screen dominates and the printed page appears increasingly unnatural
the development of the ebook should allow the book both to compete with
purely image-based texts and to survive alongside them. And, since reading
is seen as a girl's activity while technology is seen as a boy's realm,
the ebook should popularise reading for boys, who are less literate, at
the same time as encouraging girls to use computers.
|Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just £3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for £20 inc UK postage and packing.|