How do you organically fragment a book?

There’s an awful lot of tripe talked around digital products. They will change the world, and the way we read, but not to the extent their protagonists believe. The degree to which they are creating their own self-absorbed world is indicated by the blurb for an upcoming  ‘transmedia’ conference this coming autumn in San Francisco. Read on:

‘Transmedia development takes a robust intellectual property and organically fragments it across territories, timelines and platforms to reach mass audiences, optimizing the rights holder’s revenue potential.’

‘In today’s era of media convergence, publishers, filmmakers, producers, directors, broadcasters, writers and gamers are seeing – and profiting from – creative collaboration with the ‘story’ at the center. Transmedia development takes the intellectual property or ‘story’ and moves it across myriad platforms to reach mass audiences, optimizing the value of the content, and creating a ‘world’ in which the story lives, morphs, and expands.’

How can I wonder the story’s integrity survive such fragmentation? And will the audience really be there to pick up on all these pieces. Might not they just want to go back to the original, to the unfragmented story, to the novel even, and might not that be what many authors will want? Not all of course. There are those who see marketing as branch of authorship of course, others who write to established formulae that they know work with their public.

Writing is so much more than  story, and authorship so much more than holding rights.My optimism about the survival of good writing and integrity is authorship is I think well-founded, but we do still have to be very careful that the fragmenters and the rights-exploiters do not take over. That is their intent.

Homogenised consumer tastes

(The Bookseller, 8 February 2011)

‘Bloomsbury is adopting a global, internal structure designed to allow it to function better alongside worldwide operations like Google, Apple and Amazon, and react to increasingly globalised and homogenised consumer tastes.’

Inspired by Bloomsbury, my small business, Collier International, is also going global. If it could find a way to do so. It already is global, comes to think of it. But reorganising would give its director a good feeling, and I could put an announcement in the Bookseller….

I will be looking at all functions, from contracts to coffee breaks, but I’m not optimistic. I can come to terms with globalised consumer tastes …but homogenised – well, great if you like milk.

Do I detect delusions of grandeur here? Or maybe a cavalier override of local culture and taste? Tastes may be increasingly globalised, but not, my Bloomsbury friends, to that extent. My travel experience indicates that the taste of milk differs remarkably from culture to culture.

The river Lambourn flows again…

Sometime between 3 and 4 this afternoon the stream came back. No sign at 2.30, just the same damp muddy earth. Now there’s maybe two inches. My first thought: it’s run-off from the fields. But this is clear water. It’s moving so slowly past the window, but where there’s a little dip beyond the bridge it’s faster, the surface is rippled. Not only is there water outside the window, there is movement.

The wonder of it all. The sense of revelation. How out of nothing water appears. Yes, it’s a spring, so there’s an explanation, and the wonder is how below the surface up in the hills the aquifer rises and falls, cuts off the water flow in a moment and restores it in a moment. There’s always an explanation, but the wonder remains.

There’d been a warning yesterday that water had been seen at Lambourn. How could it not have reached us I wondered? It had simply been moving very slowly, curling round and overflowing the stones and flint and lumps of earth.

Rivers should flow through winter and dry up in summer if they dry up at all. But winterbournes need the winter rains, and flow again almost as harbingers of spring. As come the snowdrops and the crocuses so comes the stream.

An afternoon in Blackwell’s

Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford never ceases to amaze with the sheer range of titles on display. (On sale as well, but it’s the display that’s extraordinary.) But even here we have the two-for-the-price- of-one offer, just like WH Smith’s or any supermarket. For me the trouble is that I don’t usually want two but, more than that, a seed of doubt has been sown in my mind about the value I’ll be getting when I just buy one. One of its own is poor value, so I buy neither the one nor the two. Happily it is often a characteristic of the two for one that they’re products I don’t want. But if I might have wanted them, I don’t now.

If I want a good new novel, I want a novel that is singular in every sense, not a reading programme. The second novel should I buy may rot on my shelves as the second M&S or Tesco packet of sausages will rot in my fridge.  True, come a rainy day or an empty larder I may well consume that second novel or sausage packet but it will only because there’s nothing else, and existing on nothing else is not the way I wish to live my life.

I hear someone call out ‘value’ but I will be my own judge on what is value.

One step at a time is the way to go. Try and take two steps at a time… well, that’s just foolish.

Redbrick landscapes

As a starting-point, check out Philip Pullman on the Oxfordshire projected library closures. He brings a bit of passion (and reality) into a cold world of numbers and council leaders:

Then read on…

We need Pullman’s passion, and his capacity to embarrass, to hammer the leader of Oxford county council, to make us realise just what it is we’re in danger of losing.

What he doesn’t quite get over is the once and forever nature of the cuts. Once the libraries have gone, they’ve gone. Built up over a hundred years and more, part of the great legacy of Victorian civic duty and philanthropy. Much of the red brick is still with us, often looking rundown, but there, at the core of the old communities. New communities have more modern spaces, but it’s all the same tradition.

We can wipe it out in a blink of an eye. 

We’ll find new uses for the buildings. Like old chapels they might make bijou residences for the likes of Mr Mitchell (the council leader).

The government merits as  much opprobrium as councils. I’m pro the big society but government is obsessed with the notion of volunteers taking over what should be legitimate functions of the state, not least libraries. Volunteers are never likely to be equipped to run such institutions, and certainly not in those run-down areas where libraries need to be revived, not shuttered.  

Much better to focus the big society on civic duty, an old and unpopular (these days) and indeed Victorian term.  Volunteers can help in all sorts of ways, but not in running the show.

I know what Philip Pullman means about book publishing, but he’s wrong. The same goes for booksellers. It’s market forces driving them, not moral turpitude. Some of the books he anathematises are the stuff that people borrow from libraries. The great thing is people are reading. And new publishers come along all the time and take risks, explore new areas. It was ever thus. 

Mr Pullman doesn’t like the profit motive. He even mentions Mr Marx which is a little unwise as he’s stir up the ire of the market fundamentalists. We do want to win this case. And it won’t be easy. The fundamentalists carry clout.

Council leaders and fundamentalists like to trot out e-books and the internet as arguments against libraries in their present form. Pullman doesn’t mention them. It’s enough to say that the huge majority of us still read the old-fashioned way – and I suspect will continue to do so.

But Pullman is right on the bidding culture. That needs to be chucked out immediately. The clever arguers and smartly educated guys get the money, all of it. Those with equally good causes but who fall down on the smooth argument get nowt. We need money spread around in a common-sense, even-handed way.

Where, Mr Mitchell will ask, can we make the cuts if we don’t cut libraries? By paring back across the board, I’d argue. Maybe for now buying in fewer new books, even laying off staff, here as everywhere. What you don’t do is wipe out an institution which if you do you wipe out forever.

There’s nothing wrong with redbrick landscapes whether out there on the high street – or as landscapes of the mind.