Current debates on the publishing industry tend to focus on digitization and on the transformation of products (books to e-readers, paper to screen). Technology contributes significantly to a 'structure of feeling' within the industry characterised by threat and subsequent risk aversion. There is perceived division and lack of communication between various stakeholders, with writers often excluded from debate within the industry. This project brings together the various stakeholders (including writers, publishers, technology developers) in order to explore the role of technology in relation to IP, emergent business models, ethics and creativity. Through an attention to processes and relations within the industry we seek to expose a structure of feeling dominated by the question of technology, enable communication and contribute to debates and activities characterised by openness, exploration and a greater sense of enablement.
The aim of Whose Book Is It Anyway? is to probe and unpack the question of technology and to recognise that even if the current state of the publishing industry is complex and its future is hard to predict, this doesn’t mean that publishers and writers are powerless and in thrall to a process of digitisation driven by market imperatives. Readers, while welcoming the new generation of electronic reading devices, still buy predominantly paper copies of books. However, the pace of the shift to digital has taken many people within the industry by surprise. Time and again the conversation leads to blanket statements about ‘the end of books’ where little attention is paid to the vast potential for new hybrid forms of text, and the fundamental shifts in the writing-reader axis that the new technologies are enabling.
Attributing too much agency to technology is often tantamount to the abdication of responsibility, and we are concerned with broadening the discussion toward notions of ethics, collaboration, property, and creativity. Is it possible that there is a potential transformation in the relations rather than objects (books, devices) that characterise the publishing industry? Rather than waiting for it to determine the future, we look at how new forms of technology contribute (alongside the old forms of technology) to the re-prioritisation of relations between writers and readers, publishers and technology developers, industrialists and inventors.
As part of the project we have held several events, including a major conference in 2015. We have also been collecting position papers from our contributors.