Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Digital Publications

I don't usually post personal comments to this blog but I felt compelled to write something after seeing a number of Apple iPad demo videos lately, such as the one on this page.

It looks like the entire publishing universe is moving in the direction of 'digital fiction' at the moment and because of this the concept of enhancing reading experiences with digital media is becoming not only acceptable but considered 'leading-edge'. Publishers are wiring themselves into every possible digital avenue to offer electronic versions of their works, from simple epub documents through iphone and ipad magazines to collaborations with games designers. It's all good, but as someone who has believed in the exciting potential of all of this since the mid 1990s and experimented with fiction and new media online since 2000, I can't help but find myself with mixed feelings about it.

The previously mentioned ipad video demonstration I think highlights my main frustration with what seems to be going on here. Elements of media are not so much being mixed together - blended into something new - but rather being superimposed ontop of one another. There is still a distinct seperation even though each media type might appear on the same canvas. Looking closely at the iPad video reveals nothing more than a simple play-and-pause video sequence (okay, so it has blockbuster-film style graphics but how many thousands of times have we seen this stuff; slow motion blowing hair and Panic-Room-style whooshing around) overlaid with text-boxes, not too unlike hundreds of polished Flash design agency sites.

Does this change, mutuate, enhance or do anything at all to the reading experience or the way the text has been written?

A few years ago it was common to see comments across the web suggesting "new types of authors" but it's only recently that I have started to see comments on the flip-side of this starting to pop up. For example - "we're about to discover a whole new way of reading." My question is - are we? Is it a "new way of reading" or just another way of sticking the same old media side-by-side so it's all on one plate rather than seperately digestable?

See comments posted to the New York Times article. Some interesting responses to the whole concept of mixed media magazines.

I don't want to linger on this particular iPad video response, or to start rattling on about the many digital authors who've been harping on about the potential of digital fiction for years - I do generally think the move that publishers of all kinds are (slugglishly until recently) making into the digital area is - overall - good (even if eBooks are dull). But I couldn't help but stifle a laugh seeing the "behind-the-scenes" interviews of this production with its film effects crew standing against green-screen with barely-dressed Poser-like models in the background wearing thick black-rimmed glasses and talking about how they're "doing amazing new things" with publications - like nobody thought of it before they did.

As one of the New York Times reader comments states: "isn't an "all-digital magazine" just a website?"

Friday, 19 March 2010