Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Multimedium publishing and the future of the literary press (Part 2)

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Part 2: The death of the traditional press and the birth of the multimedium publisher

That's right, I'm coining a term to describe what I have been observing. Presses that have roots tied to micro publishing already fit some of the criteria for multimedium publishing. Book Thug, for instance, publishes books, and chapbooks. So have bigger presses with simple roots – Coach House has published poetry on cards, and chapbooks if you look far enough into their history. In fact, Coach House has an e-book imprint. That is in step with multiple small presses in the US.

There will always be a place for books in print. Have you ever launched an e-book? I have. Do you want to talk about awkward? People come to a book launch expecting to buy a book and all you can offer them are lottery tickets for some pretty cool prizes (thanks Kirsten, Michelle, Eddy, Dan...). It doesn't work on its own.

E-books are here to stay. As more people get smartphones, there will come a time when going to an e-book launch will involve passing your money to someone and them texting a unique link, or emailing the product. We're not that far away. However, there is a benefit to the creation of a physical book. Ideally, E-books work for literature that fits within approximately 50-120 pages. Novels do not work. Only the most committed reader can look at a screen for anything longer. Another factor behind this is price. Because of self-publishing, the price of most e-books are between $0.99 and $4.99. Novels and press published e-books are presently being sold for twice that. One reason is tied to length.

Conveniently, chapbooks are a medium of print that fits below the best length of an e-book. Chapbooks also have the best return in investment per sale of any genre of publishing. If aesthetics are unimportant you could publish a chapbook for $2.00 and charge $10.00 +! That's a big margin of profit. You'll be lucky to get $3.00 for an e-book. Chapbooks should be a part of every publishers catalogue. Interestingly, the page range for e-books and a good book of poetry almost shadow one another. However, as I discovered creating my anthology. E-books are not the ideal format for poetry.

Before I began putting together my anthology I read an article about classic literature being reformatted to fit e-book formatting -- but I didn't understand how drastic an impact formatting for an e-reader would be. “We all write on computers, those things are technically computers, there shouldn't be any problems,” I thought -- famous last words.

(Go grab your copy of Dionne Brand's “Land to Light On” -- you should all have copies, especially if you live in Canada. Look at how Dionne masterfully manipulates the blank spaces on the page. How she controls the tempo of your reading by using line breaks, or truncates a line. Think of that as we continue.)

Most e-book formats, particularly the most widely used format .epub, are tied to html. The same html that is the base for the website you're reading this from. That's not a good thing. As anyone who has edited in html, or a html editor like Dreamweaver shall tell you, if you wish to go down a line while writing text and press the enter key, html believes that you are starting a new paragraph. Instead of going down one line, html will go down a line and a half. That's a problem for poetry. It looks really bad.

I was pleasantly surprised when converting the anthology to .mobi that line breaks and font were maintained, but it will be a while before it is possible to create a poetry e-book without assistance from a professional programmer. Or in my case, reformatting other peoples' poetry multiple times. Currently, publishers hire scanning services -- image files are pasted into e-books rather than text. But producing e-book only publications does have some validity for poetry publishers: Maybe as a way to introduce a new poet to a publisher's readers? The primary cost is time and headaches. If you have a graphic designer on staff, your most expensive issue is taken care of, more importantly, the future of e-books as a medium for poetry is exciting and bright.

Why? The second generation of e-books also known as multimedia e-books. Imagine this, you're reading your favourite poet's new book. You turn the page and you're watching a short film inspired by the poem you just read. Turn the page again and you are greeted by a sound poem. Currently, multimedia e-books are only available as apps, but, it is the jumping off point for everything that is beginning to happen within the industry.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dane Swan

Dane Swan is a Bermuda-raised, Toronto-based internationally published poet, writer and musician. His first collection, Bending the Continuum was launched by Guernica Editions in the Spring of 2011.

Go to Dane Swan’s Author Page