Natalee Caple on the Future of Books


Natalee Caple responded by email earlier this month to a standard set of five questions that TWR has posed to more than a dozen Canadian writers.

1) We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of ebooks on literary publishing in the near term?

The ebook is a great democratizer and it will revolutionize access to publishing. We will also see authors prevent the disappearance of their previous books. For too long publishers have been pulping backlist, and so if you found a new author you loved you couldn’t get their previous books unless they were all by the same publisher and all did well enough every year to stay in print. Authors typically build an audience so this kind of arrival and sustained pace is rare to the point of mythical. Which brings me to my real point: the ebook has the potential to rescue Canada’s midlist from the annihilation it is currently facing because of the ridiculous demand for the bestseller status of every book. This makes the ebook key to the survival and health of CanLit as well as the variety of voice that allows Canadian readers to really know the breadth of our culture.

2) How will your role as a writer change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks and ezines?

My role as a writer is expanding and that makes me happy. I love the short story and prior to the Joyland publication of How I Came to Haunt My Parents I was told point-blank by many important people in publishing that the short story collection is a thing of the past. It does not appeal to buyers the way a novel does and fewer and fewer are being picked up. Now, I think that’s ridiculous given the current appeal of smaller punchy works appearing on the web (Joyland itself but also YouTube, Boing Boing). So it seems to me that the audience for short stories may be better reached through the ebook. In part because, if it is a smaller audience you want a broad reach, and in part because unlike the paper book, the ebook has a non-terminal shelf-life, sellers can stock any amount of books. This makes the ebook seller seem godlike in comparison to even the hugest megabookstore.

3) Do you use or have you tried using an e-reader? What is your impression of them?

I am going to buy my first e-reader with the proceeds from my new book, so I haven’t got it yet and am asking around. Many of my students (I teach Canadian Women’s Writing at Trent University) use them and I have looked at theirs. I am especially interested in teaching using ebooks and online journals because it gives the students a sense of Canadian culture as something that is going on in the present and always being updated. And, students are under unfair financial duress, so whatever gives them more literature and encourages them to read without contributing to their poverty is great great great.

4) How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to e-books? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel, the short story, and the poem actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

McLuhan would be thrilled with the democratic aspect of ebooks. He always preached that every generation fears new technology because it fears its own obsolescence. Music, film, these are art forms that change platforms much more frequently and then are able to explore the potential of new technologies as well as the overlooked potential of the older technologies. The amazing thing about the ebook is that it can augment the paper book and highlight what is precious about physicality. It doesn’t require a system that replaces your ability to hold a book or to read. It only protects your right to this pleasure. The ebook will inevitably explore the notion of an endless text of hypertexts and text integration. But it will also spur greater interest in art projects related to the paper book.

5) In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

The ebook fills a certain expectation of accessibility that the paper book had begun to fail, in part because of the economic pressures on bookstores and the increasing cost of manufacture, shipping, and storage. The ebook will be available with book reviews. So if you like the review you can link directly to the product and try it or buy it. This will hopefully greatly increase the review space available to CanLit – albeit likely virtual review space. The reader will then be able to buy a paper version that can be personalized – so, for example, if you only want signed copies you can get a signed copy. If you want a mostly ecofriendly book you can print using certain inks and papers. If you want to combine books (say your favourite short stories across a decade) you can do that. Small presses and micropresses can link limited edition projects to the sites connected with ebooks as well, so for the purist the opportunities for collection will expand – imagine being able to buy any historical version of some special book from your childhood. Imagine being able to log and store all your favourite books alongside your passionate comments on them so that your great-grandchild can inherit your library with your voice to guide them.

One Comment

  1. hamid
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with Natalee. The options ebooks give us way overweight pbooks.

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Natalee Caple

Natalee Caple is the author of six books in genres ranging from fiction to poetry. Her recent collection of poems, The Semiconducting Dictionary, is available here. Her upcoming collection of ghost stories, fables, faery tales and autobiography, How I Came to Haunt My Parents, can be sampled here.