openmute press

Danger: Contains Books

By mrchristian, 1 May 2011
Image: I Read Where I am, cover

The recent proliferation of digital reading devices has led to extreme format paranoia, as if the book is an endangered species, under threat of extinction. This overlooks the fact that there is already a lot of ‘book’ in the digital - the vector of incursion moving as much from print to digital as it does from the digital into our notionally stable, ‘enshrined’ cultural form of the book. As the amount of tablets and eReaders in use doubles, and mobiles lose their buttons behind the glass of the screen, the interface behaviour of ‘the swipe’ is in ascendance. Is this not, in the end, also a page turn? And in a similar way, is the tweet not something like a margin note; the cloud ‘bookmark’ just that - a bookmark. If we regarded these categories more openly than we do - as ripe for mutation and adaptation, rather than set in stone, a legacy of history - then we would realise this moment constitutes one of ascendance not death.

More interesting questions, I think, focus on the composition of the publishing market - irrespective of whether that is for digital or print. When it comes to the production of books, the booster mantras - of ‘long tails’ and ‘here comes everybody’ - turn out to be misguided fantasies, distractions from the fact that the top twelve publishers make 65% (£1.2billion) of the revenue, at least in the UK. This situation hasn’t significantly changed over the last forty years of publishing innovation and digital ‘revolutions’ and if you look across the EU where, at £20 billion (2009), publishing is the largest creative industry, then it’s clear the long tail hasn’t been benefiting the small publishers as claimed, but instead serves to consolidate network monopolies.

Smaller players and Jo public are told it’s good to share, while these same network monopolies reap all the associated advertising revenue into their offshore accounts, and social networks just wait for IPO day, their bloated info-bellies replete with our profiles, connections and traces.

Supporting independent writing and publishing has been Mute’s raison d’etre since day one. Then as now it’s infrastructures that appear a prime zone of contestation. Then as now, collaboration appears to offer a way out of the marginalisation imposed upon us via our size. A recent project, Progressive Publishing System, looks to help small publishers distribute into ePublishing platforms, hybrid and expanded books, new book channels and even walled gardens. Infiltrating every channel available, it attempts to allow content to ‘follow the reader’, rather than pretending the network can come good on its promise to deliver the reader to us.

Information and history:


By Simon Worthington from a recent book I Read Where I Am publishing to coincide with the conference The Unbound Book, May 2011, Amsterdam.