New media writing by Dan Franklin - Random House

29 September 2011

An image of pens and a laptop Ahead of BU’s New Media Writing Prize we hear from Random House’s Digital Editor.

To mark BU’s New Media Writing Prize, competition judge Daniel Franklin (Digital Editor at Random House Group UK) gave us an insight into how the publishing industry is embracing new media technologies.

How are new media technologies changing the publishing industry?

The publishing industry is responding to new technologies; but I don’t think new media technologies are ‘changing’ it. It is true that new products – especially the iPad – stimulated development of book-related material for them, sometimes in a kneejerk, slightly panicked manner, and that social tools on the web and in eReader software has caused much discussion about the socialization of reading and whether there is an appetite amongst most readers to share their reading experiences in a more overt and immediate way online. Rather than publishers and other content providers being the cork on the technology stream I do think that the industry is being more selective and editorially-led about what it is creating for a digital environment.

So far the massive growth is in eBooks – cited as 10% of many publishers’ sales this year – where readers want their books in this new format, and everything else is publishers (in many guises from self-published authors to creative agencies to established corporations) prodding and pushing at the boundaries of what might become new paradigms and forms of ‘books’. Having said all that you’d be a fool to deny that devices with all the multimedia and online capabilities that smart phones have are changing all our lives. Publishers do need to provide experiences on them, but we need to foreground experiences over the technology that facilitates them.

How is the industry responding to the changing demands of consumers?

The most obvious and important response is digitizing backlists and making eBooks available alongside print versions. My concern is with commissioning into digital and one of the clear new avenues is e-Shorts; be it short stories or more pamphlet-like, responsive pieces of current affairs writing. There is an appetite for eBooks of up to 10,000 words at a price point of about £1. Or if you look at the Kindle charts there is an appetite for novels at rock bottom prices, but we’re finding that length here isn’t the issue as much as a perceived low-cost, therefore it’s less risky punt on a title.

Research suggests that many people don’t finish books they’re reading; there’s an opportunity here to commission short-form pieces which don’t work as print. Alongside this there are continuing forays into the app space with varying degrees of success. Utility (cookery, travel guides etc) is a ripe area, and big online-friendly brand authors too. Then there is the third way – where publishers are starting to get more involved in online narrative experiments, projects conceived and wholly native to the digital realm. There’s been lots of great work done in this area, but I can see it going more main stream, or at least becoming an interest to mainstream publishers.

How do you go about ensuring you are continually innovating and staying ahead of the trends?

Keeping vigilant about what’s going on in the publishing industry and perhaps most importantly outside of it. The rest of it is staying open to possibilities and being optimistic about trying new things in a not wholly naive way.

Why are you supporting Bournemouth University's New Media Writing Prize?

It’s in all our interests to see what is being done in new media writing and I really hope to discover some blazing talent that would otherwise be completely off our radar as a mainstream publisher. I’m particularly interested in how the South/South-West is establishing itself as a hub of digital activity when a lot of people (and the government) is focusing on East London and ‘Silicon Roundabout’. I like to think of narrative engineering laboratories on the Cornish coast. It sounds like a beautiful future to me!

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