Struan Sinclair on the Future of Books


Struan Sinclair responded from the UK, by email, to our questions on April 19.

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

Significant. Already a number of authors report that the e-versions of their books are on par with or outselling printed copies. And at least one agency in Canada is promoting its e-book service to its authors.

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

I’m interested to see what the technology brings over the next generation of touchscreen e-readers and online zines. I’m involved with a few projects now that blend digital technology with traditional text forms, and although I hope that the book stays with us I think there’s great potential for hybrid forms that offer new shapes for narrative in particular.

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

I do, and I use it regularly, particularly while travelling. It’s a useful tool as well as a terrific portable library for all sorts of out-of-print texts.

4) How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to ebooks? 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?

Certainly these forms will change. And they’ll also stay the same, since text is still the basis for much of our ordinary communication as well as various literary genres. Hypertext has been around for decades but it has made a pretty minimal impact on literary form, and I expect that, for a while at least, the same will be true of rich content like triggered audio, video, sense-o-rama and so on. But there will be vanguard texts that include enhanced content and, more interestingly in my view, open up new ways of reading and writing that we haven’t perhaps yet understood. For a few years now I’ve been part of a virtual-world novel project, If/Then, that’s a kind of laboratory for narratives in the (portable, networked) digital age. I see some interesting possibilities for genuinely reimagined literary forms. I’m less convinced by texts that simply yoke a video or audio stream to a traditional narrative.

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

We will almost certainly see fewer of them sold, and made, particularly if the trend favouring e-book sales continues. I can imagine a literary market in which e-books are lead-published and are then followed by print-on-demand trade paperbacks. And virtual shelves in bookstores where a quick pass with your e-reader and a click of the BUY button gets you the book there and then. If I were a bookseller, that’s the sort of thing I’d be looking to invent.

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Struan Sinclair

Struan Sinclair's short story collection, Everything Breathed, was published in North America and the UK by Granta Books. He won the 2001 New London Writer’s Award for fiction and was the 2002-03 writing fellow in Orkney, Scotland. In 2009, Doubleday published his debut novel, Automatic World, to critical acclaim. Like most gifted writers, he lives in Winnipeg.