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if:book - the future of the book

by Chris Meade

The web has transformed the cultural landscape for writers. While the small number who earn a living wage from royalties are concerned about whether their incomes will fall, all the 'lesser published', including the emerging and the doing-it-for-pleasure, have been liberated from the demeaning hunt for any means to get heard. Where once rejection letters rained down and vanity presses prowled, now writers can put their work for free on the virtual shelves of the blogosphere. And now that our laptops allow individual authors to embed links, graphics, sound and video in their texts, and provide the potential for all kinds of collaborations and interactions, there are plenty of new directions opening up for the written word in a multimedia environment.

Many publishers, writers and readers are unsurprisingly nervous of these changes, clinging to the business models and reading habits they've grown used to. Others are realising that a book isn't a stack of paper but a cultural experience that might just be heightened and invigorated by e-readers and digital illumination.   

Last year, after 25 years working in public libraries and as director of the Poetry Society and most recently Booktrust, I formed if:book, the new charity exploring the future of the book and the creative potential of new media for readers and writers. Our aim is to widen the debate about where words go next, bringing together those on either side of what still feels like a cultural divide.

We've already produced read:write, research into digital possibilities for the literature sector, commissioned by Arts Council England, and 'Digital Livings', a booklet on how those writers creating work for the web make their way in the world. We're making immersive fictions and digital resources to stimulate a love of books past and future, and creating our own kinds of futurebook, including and the Blakean

We have just launched an international experiment in close reading, a collaboration with Apt Studio curated by Bob Stein of our US sister organisation, The Institute for the Future of the Book.

Have you read The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing? Did you try it but never quite make it through to the end? Did you love it way back when and wonder what you'd make of it now? Did you hear some of it serialised on Radio 4 recently and think, "I must read that."? Well, now you can read it along with the comments of an international team of readers and an online community around them. Go to …and read/write on! 


© Chris Meade 2008