When I talk to people I am always surprised and disappointed in equal measure when they describe themselves as not being ‘readers.’ It is not so much that they choose to spend their free time doing things other than reading books but rather it is about their self-perception: something that is now starting in childhood. It is the fact that because they believe themselves not to be readers, they then discount books entirely from their lives. They ignore the fantastic and imaginative creations only to go and see them played out on television or in the cinema and wonder why they never picked up the book in the first place.
This, however, is changing thanks to new stories being developed specifically for digital devices, which are successfully achieving feats that are impossible in traditional analogue formats. The incorporation of audio-visual features, games, and interactive elements is changing the perception that ‘non-readers’ have of books. It is changing what consumers - and we in the publishing world - understand a book to be. This new frontier for publishing intrigues and excites me because of the limitless possibilities it offers.
The incorporation of audio-visual elements into a narrative is an intriguing prospect. On the one hand, it offers readers the immediate gratification of seeing a world emerge in front of them, but on the other, one of the supposed joys of reading is imagining a setting in your mind’s eye and establishing the look and feel of the setting for one’s self. In principle, these two diametrically-opposed design choices ought not to work but the reality is far less clear.
Gamification also fascinates me. The process of leveraging game mechanics and utilising them as motivational drives to challenge readers, to prolong their engagement and ultimately immerse them in a story-world is an exciting proposition. But more exciting still are the challenges that this idea presents such as; how do we incorporate them into the narrative flow, how does one avoid losing readers when we ask them to move to different forms of engagement, and how do we incentivise readers to persist when challenges impede their advancement through the narrative? These questions have yet to be resolved and I am eager to see how publishers will try and meet these challenges.
User agency is another topic that I consider interesting when contemplating the future of digital storytelling. While degrees of agency vary, what happens when you allow readers to shape the narrative, to remove the traditional barriers that have kept readers as passive parties in a story and instead, place them in the position of co-author, working hand-in-hand with storytellers to shape narratives? Could we be entering an age where narratives are responsive to readers’ likes and dislikes, adapting to them and giving each reader a uniquely satisfying reading experience?
As someone who is now entering the industry and who has been experimenting with digital formats during my role as Digital Manager at Lamplight Press, these are questions that intrigue me. I am excited to see the ways in which the industry will respond to them and hope to contribute to the discussion one day myself.
Joey Amoah is a student of publishing and English at Loughborough University, and digital manager at Lamplight Press. This is one of a series of blogs on publishing, written by current publishing students. Read previous entries here, here, and here.