A manifesto for readers

A manifesto for readers

"Talk of reader engagement shows how out of touch our industry is with its lifeblood." And as the proliferation of content outstrips the growth of a consumer base, development of readership is one of the most urgent priorities of publishing in 2016. So it seems fitting that we have this manifesto on the 1st of January. This is a continuation of the series started for the FutureBook 2015 Conference. Sam Ruddock and his associate Bianca Winter have established a new non-profit programme, WeAreReaders.co.uk (on Twitter at @We_AreReaders), to encourage reading. "Rather than seeing reader engagement as the end goal of our industry," Ruddock and Winter write, "we believe that a manifesto on the future of literature must start with readers."—Porter Anderson

When we read, we’re doing something amazing

We’re completing a world, we’re rewriting a history, we’re getting under someone else’s skin.

Talk of reader engagement shows how out of touch our industry is with its lifeblood. Readers are not passive consumers. We are active citizens and agents of change. We are sailors on the vast seas of literature: actors, dreamers, creators. 

We live in an era where the structures of power and provision are shifting: away from top-down models based on the producer/consumer dichotomy, and towards person-to-person collaboration as the mode of transaction. Technological developments have facilitated some of these shifts, but this is not merely a technological change—it goes to the heart of how we behave as people, and what we can be and do in this world. Take a look at the current refugee crisis: while governments have dragged their feet and talked about solutions, it is ordinary citizens who have banded together to warmly welcome, collect, and house those in the greatest need. There are countless other examples of such action, in climate change, in cooperative regeneration, in literature, and in how we choose to spend our leisure time.

Rather than seeing reader engagement as the end goal of our industry, we believe that a manifesto on the future of literature must start with readers.

That’s why we are forming We Are Readers, a band of readers who promote a culture of reading broadly and connecting widely. We've been travelling the UK, meeting and interviewing readers, and will be sharing their reading lives stories. We're thinking about reader-to-reader recommendations and distribution, challenging the algorithms that make unsophisticated connections and narrow what readers are exposed to and discover. And we're exploring how a "fair read" agreement between readers might lead to more ethical buying and reading, in a similar way that fair trade has revolutionised the trade in bananas.

When we imagine the future

We see readers leading a revolution that wrests books from the stranglehold of algorithms and commerce. Our Art of W.A.R. (We Are Readers) sees:

  1. New beginnings. Books don't end on the last line—deep connections with stories, settings and scenes transform into deep connections in our communities and our lives; people act together to share, to build and to create.
  2. New values. Consumers exercise their power with an awareness of what their pounds buy and their patronage enables. They display discretion, making decisions that contribute to the fair society and industry that they long for.
  3. New models for publishing. Readers embrace their direct relationships with creative people of all kinds, developing inventive forms of patronage, shifting crowdfunding from a series of transactions to exciting co-creative journeys.

Whatever we do in literature, whether writing, publishing, selling or engaging with it, we are all readers. This is just the start for us.  

Our original call for "Five-Minute Manifestos" for The Future of the Book Business ahead of the FutureBook 2015 Conference brought out an extraordinarily robust response. You can see those manifestos here. We're going on with more of them and invite you to consider contributing. Just drop a line to Porter.Anderson@thebookseller.com

Our most recently published manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: Sean Gao