Digitisation of literature – a curse or a blessing? (Part 2)
- Serie: Media Art
Some years ago, free music file sharing networks appeared on the net, causing a lot of complaints by musicians and record companies alike. Sales figures went down, followed by job cuts. In the meantime, all parties involved have gotten used to the new situation and have adjusted to a digital music market. But with the new tablet computers, another one of these discussions springs up: the digitisation of books and magazines.
LABKULTUR talked about chances and problems of above mentioned digitisation with the authors Oliver Uschmann and Sven-Andre Dreyer, publishers Ludger Classen (Klartext) and Michael Schweßinger (Edition PaperONE), and Andreas Züll, poet and former chairman of the Freie Autoren NRW (an umbrella organisation for free writers).
Is digitisation a danger, especially for smaller publishing companies? If yes – which kind of countermeasure could be started?
Ludger Classen: Digitisation is not dangerous – and I wouldn’t know which countermeasures to initiate anyway. What’s more, we have even started to publish eBooks.
Michael Schwessinger: A change always implies both, danger and chance. Right now, I don’t consider digitisation to be a threat for us – as a small publishing company, we have another work process than many big publishers anyway. A lot of our authors are live authors, meaning they’re involved in stage readings or poetry slams, so often, the mechanism is different from that reading a book by an anonymous author. You want to have a souvenir of a nice evening, or a dedication written in your book. I think the wish to have something palpable, something haptic prevails in our surrounding, much more than in the Amazon universe where you buy a book and the author is ephemeral.
Many authors and writers don’t want to see their texts as free content on the web. What is your opinion on that?
Sven-Andre Dreyer: I can understand my colleagues to a certain extent. Free availability of texts on the web - and this includes digital books – means the author has no whatsoever control about the whereabouts of his texts. Complete books become the property of the global online community, and the originator doesn’t benefit financially from that feat – the best case for him would be an increasing (virtual) popularity. Once again: if you want to make money with your texts, digital, and therefore uncontrollable circulation is not very lucrative. On the other hand, I can get some attention as an author with free texts: I can advertise my texts, me, and my readings. Maybe digital and free texts or text samples raise some interest among the readers. And that again is very advantageous for an author, isn’t it?
Andreas Züll: During my tenure as the chairman of the FDA in North Rhine-Westphalia, we oft discussed whether texts should be published on the web or not – there’s a solid mistrust regarding the internet which is not necessarily outdated or unusual. In the meantime, the association has taken to publish selected „smaller“ text genres such as poems on its website, as some kind of text samples. I think that’s reasonable. But, as said before, that only applies to smaller kinds of texts published online to raise some interest in more extensive, printed works. You simply have to distinguish one from the other – the proper medium of an author is the book, even at the beginning of the 21st century.
By the way, many writers, especially the beginners, have this strange primal fear that someone would steal their intellectual property – something which I consider just arrogant nonsense in most cases. The net with its abstract „size“ increases this fear. Of course this fear is justified as far as famous writers are concerned - but they’re not very much inclined to publish their latest bestseller online anyway. I’ve come to the sober conclusion that if my works were that good someone else would like to pretend they’re his, we wouldn’t have this conversation because I’d sit at some beach, finally getting on with my novel! After all, there’s a love/hate relationship concerning the communication age, an affair in which the decision whether internet and author are happily married or on their way to a dirty divorce, has not been made yet.
Oliver Uschmann: Well, some say the internet is a blessing because on the one hand, you can publish little text tidbits which make the readers curious, and on the other hand, you can write whatever you want without any restraints a publishing company may impose, like I do in my exclusive stories on www.hartmut-und-ich.de.
Will the book be replaced by iPad & Co.?
Ludger Classen: No. There will be both, eBooks and traditional books. Books have been around for more than 550 years, and compared with electronic media, they have priceless advantages. Usually, books are lightweight, and you don’t need electricity, adequate devices, online connections, other appliances, or special climate requirements - just some light and in some cases, reading glasses. Besides, books can lie in the sun, next to strong magnets, or in the freezer, and fall onto stone floors - without any functional damage.
Michael Schwessinger: That may be possible to some extent, and the book market may be subject to a similar development as the music market. As far as specialised or technical books are concerned, I can imagine that. But looking at my own reading habits, I don’t think we have to do without the medium book in the near future. Reading a good novel in the tub, or in the park, making notes on the pages here and there, flipping back and forth – I can hardly see me doing that with an iPad. Maybe I’m too conservative, and future generations may be more open-minded, but for me, that’s not a genuine alternative. So, I will continue to buy books – and not files.