‘Unprintable Fiction:’ The Future of Publishing?

The introduction of the e-book may have been groundbreaking back in 2007, but just like so many other digital adaptations of legacy media, there have been critiques about simply copying and pasting the content from one medium (such as print) to another (in this case, a digital e-reader). Digital versions of newspapers and magazines have begun to format their online content in a more mobile-friendly format that mirrors the structure of blogs, but e-books seemed to be lacking any similar type change or innovation.

In an attempt to remedy some of these problems and construct a new type of novel with the mobile-device user in mind, Richard Lea wrote about a new type of book in an article for The Guardian just a month ago. Entitled “What apps next? Publishers and developers embrace ‘unprintable’ fiction,” Lea follows the efforts of publishers and developers like Anna Gerber and the folks at Google Creative Lab. This drive for ‘unprintable fiction’ is an attempt to solve the problems of readers who feel that printed material doesn’t translate well to a digital medium: “People like to talk about how physical books have qualities that don’t transfer well to digital. We want to show that digital books can have narrative and visual qualities that champion writing but can’t be transferred to print.”Lea notes that Gerber “isn’t trying to kill off the printed book,” and quotes her as saying “We don’t really think the point is to change the way we read, … but we do like the idea of trying to immerse readers in books on their phones.”

Despite these attempts, however, there are some unexpected problems. Similar to e-books, there have been issues with pricing (apps take considerably more time and effort to produce, but consumers tend to not want to pay a couple dollars for the product), and with the publishing houses and software developers working together. Although both are integral for the production and success of such a product, Lea notes that “software houses and publishers operate in entirely different ways,” which can cause some issues during production.

It’ll be interesting to track the development of such apps and forms of interactive fiction, and how they differ from video games and video-based narratives. At this point, it’s too early to predict whether such app-based reading will be a success, but maybe this will be a new industry standard to replace the e-book.