What do you use your screen(s) for?

It is highly unlikely that you will be reading a printed copy of these words. We live in a world of blended media today and that brings with it a few new features. The chances are that you have several screens and devices to choose from every day.

I have just come back from a Connected TV conference organised by my employers (MediaTel) which was all about the implications, and current state, of the technology. A lot of time was spent discussing advertising (indeed the event was sponsored by Rovi) and the whys and wherefores of the new advertising models being created. Fascinating stuff but what I’ll be discussing here is the nature of the technology we are now using every day and how we can use it.

Technology. Books. Television. What’s the link?

Actually it is wider and deeper than you might first think. Let’s get a few bullet points down…

  • printing. Since the Gutenberg press with its solid type we have seen printing develop to the point where we can print a book in a few minutes on a laser printer. But this is old hat now..
  • consumption. You can now read the book or listen to it being read by Stephen Fry, for example. If you want a difficult time you can get the text-to-speech program to do it for you instead of listening to Mr Fry’s mellifluous tones
  • more consumption.. this is where I give up on bullet points

One of the technology points that kept recurring at MediaTel’s Connected TV Experience was that there is an increasing emphasis on multiple or companion screen usage whilst watching TV. For example; say you are watching a movie and need to know more it is very simple to pick up your smart device (Android, Apple etc) and check the details on IMDB for starters.

So the companion screen is clearly going to be of major importance, the next 3 to 5 years will bring some maturity as well as new developments; I’d suggest that gesture based controls will be come more prevalent, this much is clear from the advent of the XBox Kinect device.

Back to books. One of my recent obsessions has been to think about and look at the different ways we now consume our literature. The list is here:

  • Paper
  • Computer screen at work or home
  •  Ebook (kindle, sony, vook..
  • Tablet
  • Smartphone

But hang on.. it isn’t even that simple. This is the blended bit.

I love the feeling of holding a book, turning the pages, all those sensual associations we develop with objects. However it isn’t always possible to lug around that massive copy of Lord of the Rings – which is where Blended Reading comes in.

Blended Reading is my name for the act of moving across different media to continue our reading experience: this implies continuity of reading the text or enhancing the reading experience by discovering additional information and content for ourselves; this in turn may include Social Media conversations and recommendations which lead to more reading matter or video/images/advertising.

Lord of the Rings is an interesting example because Peter Jackson very deliberately tried to retain the storytelling style and the events of the original book when making his films. When reading the book, or watching the film, it is easy to blend the two because of the effort put in to remain faithful to the book. You won’t necessarily learn a great deal from this particular blend but it serves as a starting point.

Implications and Analysis

Of course Blended Reading is much more than switching media. Book in hand I look up the extended bio of the author on my smartphone, I check out their other books. I download the next in series to my smartphone and read it anywhere I can.

This is exactly what I did recently when reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I have the thick volume which is impossible to carry, reassuringly dense on one’s lap but impossible on the tube. Motivated by the need to keep reading I got the eBook on my Android phone and carried on from where I left off. When time allowed in the evening I continued with the paper tome.

There was more to discover so I used my smartphone to find out for myself if there was any more of Pullman’s work related to this series. And this way I deepened my appreciation of his work and the characters he has created for us.

Similar scenarios happen when watching the television or a movie. We want to know more. The ad-breaks provide a chance for us to pursue questions raised whilst watching the main programme. Waiting for the kettle to boil or the toast to pop is another quiet moment to pursue the quest for information.

The implication of this style of interaction, for me, is that I get the satisfaction of enriching my experience. For the author, it means that I can discover more of their work or home in on a specific aspect of it. For the publisher, it means an opportunity to sell more books.

For Publishers, rather like Broadcasters, there are a number of issues to consider around how they can get the most benefits from multiple devices and indeed the social relationships that go hand in hand with them. Selling multiple copies of a book, say, is it right to sell an individual bot electronic and paper copies of a work? I’m sure that many publishers would say ‘Yes!’. This doesn’t encourage the Blended Reading I’m talking about though and creates a disjoint between what is available and what is possible.

Conclusion

Whether you are reading this article on the computer at home or work, on your Kindle or smartphone it is now clear that reading has changed. This isn’t news anymore, just bald fact.

The technology we carry around with us provides so many opportunities for us to experience more outside the main focus of our attention that making use of the facility becomes compelling, habit forming possibly. Does this improve our experience of what we read or watch?

I think that it does. What do you think?

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Ok, it’s not the usual thing to do but I think QR codes are great. You can read the rest of the post with your smartphone or scan the images online with this page: http://zxing.org/w/decode.jspx

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If you’re interested in the technology then @ajaxlogos is a good place to start. He’s done a load of work on them and is being very creative.

I’m watching the #fiw11 stream on twitter and it sounds as though there are some great creative publishing ideas coming out.

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There is an independent bookshop not far from me which has a way to go before they are properly socially engaged. There is the local engagement with the customers, there is Twitter and of course Facebook but let’s not forget Foursquare, Gowalla or any of the other location based services.

One of my gripes is that when walking into the shop they will happily sell you a book, as long as they don’t have to break off their conversation with each other for too long. This isn’t really how to get the best out of your relationship with the customers who support you.

I’ve spent a lot of time, in the past, working in a retail setting where I was taught that you don’t sell anything unless you communicate with the customer. This was my father’s shop where he sold antique furniture (mostly restored Pine, much of it restored by me) to people from all over the world. Engagement with and education of the customer were vital to keeping the money flowing in.

I also used to sell second-hand cookery books in a local cookshop and it was remarkable how the decision to buy is affected by how attentive you are to the customer. Too much attention and you can lose the sale, too little and the customer will just wander away money unspent. You know your subject why not help you customer with that knowledge.

This is my checklist for bookshops that want to fully engage using the social media:

  • Make the link between talking with customers, creating loyalty and the online equivalent of finding new followers/fans.
    You get lots of chances as a local bookshop. People will always be passing by. However, have you created a strong bond with them so they think of you, not Amazon, first. Online you may not be so lucky, once you’re unfollowed that’s usually it, you have to maintain the conversation.
  • Check out what others are up to. An excellent example of an independent making good use of Twitter is @gutterbookshop in Dublin. Lots of chat and they always respond to mentions on Twitter. What are the big guns like @Waterstones up to and check out the smaller chains like @Foyles.
  • Does your literature show your social networking places? Whether it is bookmarks, postcards, posters or flyers you need to tell people in the ‘real’ world about your presence in the virtual marketplace that is the Web.
  • Are you on the map? Can potential visitors get your location and directions easily? This is where your website, or Facebook page can come in very useful.
  • How well do you support local authors? Not all local bookshops do as much as they can for their locally based writers. It may be down to the writer, their publicist or the haughty response you give them which puts them off. Do yourself and your community a favour and promote local writing.
  • Don’t just chat to your colleagues, it’s downright rude. Quite often people will want to talk about what they are buying. You can help validate that decision and ensure repeat business.
  • Unfamiliar face? Say hello, make yourself available to chat. Not very good at that sort of thing then employ someone who is. Remember, first impressions last. If you get the double entendre there then you will know that it works both ways!
  • If you’re on Twitter or Facebook then make sure you are keeping the conversation going. @Foyles have fun competitions running every week and people just adore winning books!
  • There is a distinction between organic growth and SEO based growth so it is worth discovering what they differences are. I’m largely organic myself.

I should run a course on this really.

What is your experience of independent bookshops as a customer and if you run an independent bookshop you can use the comment forms to tell me I’m wrong or that it’s just too difficult and you’ve given up. Success stories to inspire others are encouraged!

 

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I Love Reading

I Love Reading

To many people there is this thing called the ’30 day book meme’ which is a kind of survey where you write a blog entry in answer to each of the questions.
An example of one is here http://ohemgillie.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/30-day-book-meme-day-30/ and you can see each of the days has been filled out by @OhEmGillie. There are many, many examples of this over the web and it’s rather popular.

I can see the appeal as it is a great way of talking about what you love; Books, reading and literature.

The concept of a Meme first appeared in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. Quoting from WikiPedia:

The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such “selfish” replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book.

There are other book and literature related memes around, here are some I found:

I notice a feature of these memes is that some of them involve ‘tagging’ which seems an ideal thing for Twitter. Not used much in that way though.

Do you do or have you ever joined in a ‘book meme’? If so tell us about your favourite one here, make sure you include a link in the comment so it can be found.

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I’m sure we all choose our next books in different ways.

My favoured method for a long time has been to just start reading the book, sometimes after I’ve read the blurb but not always. This works really well particularly when browsing in bookshops or someone’s bookshelves. If I find that I’ve got to the third page of the book without any effort then I’ll probably read the whole thing.

Familiarity with an author is a great way to choose as well. It doesn’t always work out so well though when you find you prefer their earlier work to their later output. Short stories are a potent way of discovering whether you like an author’s style, I’ve sometimes found that the short stories are better than the full length ones or vice versa. What is interesting about that is that the short stories are often about the author finding their ‘writing self’ so you can see development and experimentation going on.

Recommendations are another useful way of finding out what to read. There are the algorithmic, computerised, methods used by Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing on the one hand and personal suggestions on the other. Personal recommendations might come from friends, colleagues or family or via FridayReads or forums/discussion groups on places like Goodreads and LibraryThing. It’s interesting how people will ‘sell’ you the book that they really enjoyed, they might not even realise you hate romantic fiction – but there’s a first time for everything.

I’d love to know how you discover what you want to read next. Join the conversation using the comments below.

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On World Book Night 2011 in the UK the BBC showed a program called The Books We Really Read presented by Sue Perkins. The BBC’s decision to focus their programming purely on the ‘literary fiction’ genre was in many people’s opinion flawed.

Science Fiction author Stephen Hunt (@SFCrowsnest) started the ball rolling with his vitriolic response to the coverage. Subsequently he has put together a petition of as many of the UK’s Science fiction authors as possible. Naturally the BBC is defending itself over the programme and subsequent discussion. There’s a good Guardian piece here with a bit more background.

So what do I think?

I reckon that Stephen Hunt is right to criticise the BBC. At present they are coming across as having a somewhat elitist view of what constitutes a good read without, it appears, having done any research. Hunt’s observation that the BBC was limited in outlook certainly stands. If there had been any evidence of joined-up thinking someone would have pointed out to the editors of The Books We Really Read and subsequent discussion programme that the BBC has a big SciFi output. Dr Who or Torchwood anyone?

In that case What Do People Really, Really Read?

I compile the Most Read list for FridayReads every week and there are always a few surprises but what always delights and amazes me is the sheer variety of books that people read. Only a small part of it fits in to that odd category of Literary Fiction. In fact I’d go so far as to say that Literary Fiction is the exception rather than the rule when readers make their choice.

Here is the most read list from FridayReads on 8th April 2011. I’ve added the Genre classifications, you can tell me if you disagree.

The top three are heavily promoted but do include real reading data so I’ve left them there for this list. If you have never joined in FridayReads before then you also need to know that the list changes every week. This is real reading data and is not based on sales data (eg Amazon).

The data is gathered from participants World Wide! It’s a global thing (thanks to @ibc4 for the prompt).

title
author
Genre
Chickens Mules and Two Old FoolsVictoria Twead @VictoriaTweadfood, drink, humour, travel, animals
BossypantsTina Feyhumour
A Discovery of WitchesDeborah Harkness @DebHarknessparanormal fiction
THE PALE KINGDavid Foster Wallacefiction
KrakenChina Mievillescience-fiction
Water for ElephantsSara Gruenhistorical fiction
The Kitchen DaughterJael McHenryfiction
Catching fireSuzanne Collinsya fantasy, fiction
FreedomJohnathan Franzenfiction, family saga, humour
Unfamiliar FishesSarah Vowellhistory, offbeat
Game of ThronesGeorge R R Martinfantasy, fiction
LifeKeith Richardsautobiography
WitherLauren DeStefanoya dystopian, fiction
Skippy DiesPaul Murrayfiction, humour, mystery,
A Walk in the SnarkRachel Thompson @RachelintheOChumour, non-fiction
Just KidsPatti Smithautobiography
RevolutionJennifer Donnellyya historical fiction
Started Early Took My DogKate Atkinsoncrime fiction
Say Hello to ZorroCarter Goodrichchildren's, picture, fiction, humour
City of Fallen AngelsCassandra Clareya fantasy, fiction
A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egancontemporary fiction, post-modern
The Book ThiefMarcus Zusakhistorical fiction, ya fiction
Gods WarChristopher Tyermanhistory
Season of the HarvestMichael R Hicksaction-adventure, fiction
The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksRebecca Sklootcreative non-fiction
Red GloveHolly Blackya science-fiction
The Name of the WindPatrick Rothfussfantasy fiction
The Bird SistersRebecca Rasmussencontemporary fiction
Guilt by AssociationSusan R Sloancrime fiction, suspense, thriller
Heads you loseChristianna Brandcrime fiction, murder mystery
The Wise Mans FearPatrick Rothfussfantasy, fiction, epic
Say Her NameFrancisco Goldmannon-fiction, memoir
The Tigers WifeTea Obrehtfiction, magical realism, fantasy
Three Cups of TeaGreg Mortenson & David Oliver Relinbiography, social,politics, philosophy
The Happiness ProjectGretchen Rubinself-help
A Clash of KingsGeorge R R Martinfantasy, fiction
Full Dark No StarsStephen Kinghorror, fiction
Where She WentGayle Formanya fiction, contemporary
DeathlessCatherynne M Valentescience-fiction, fantasy, historical fiction
ComposedRosanne Cashautobiography
THE NIGHT CIRCUSErin Morgensternya fantasy, fiction
Eternal RiderLarissa Loneparanormal fiction, romance
Good OmensTerry Pratchett & Neil Gaimancomedy, fantasy
One DayDavid Nichollsfiction, romance
CLEOPATRA A LIFEStacy Schiffbiography, historical
RoomEmma Donoghuecontemporary fiction, crime, drama
The InformationJames Gleicknon-fiction, popular science
American GodsNeil Gaimanhorror,/fantasy fiction, crossover
Love WinsRob Bellnon-fiction, religion, faith
SWAMPLANDIAKaren Russellfantasy fiction, magical realism, contemporary
Here are the numbers for each genre. Don’t try to add them up or do maths it won’t work as many books cover several genres!
1 action-adventure
3 autobiography
2 biography
1 children’s picture
5 contemporary
1 creative non-fiction
4 crime
1 crossover
1 drama
1 epic
1 faith
1 family saga
10 fantasy fiction
15 fiction
3 historical
3 historical fiction
2 horror
7 humour
2 magical realism
1 memoir
1 murder mystery
1 mystery
5 non-fiction
1 offbeat
2 paranormal fiction
1 philosophy
1 politics
1 popular science
1 post-modern
1 religion
2 romance
2 science-fiction
1 self-help
1 social
1 suspense-thriller
1 ya dystopian
3 ya fantasy
2 ya fiction
1 ya historical fiction
1 ya science-fiction

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Sometimes I get rather irked by the attitudes of those who teach my children. In this case I’m rather disappointed by the attitude of one of the senior teachers at my son’s school.

Recently it was World Book Day in the UK, celebrating the value of reading and promoting reading to children and their families. Great stuff. However the one thing that brought me up short was this excerpt from the letter to parents.

Children can come to school dressed as a book character from a children,s
book or from a traditional tale. We are asking that children stick to these two
categories rather than including comic heroes or film/cartoon characters. We
are aiming to use the day to promote reading good children’s books as much
as possible.

My italics!

So just what is wrong with comics? I can’t think of anything so I’ll state a few things that occur to me.

The comic form teaches narrative. There is an order to the frames and the frames contain speech bubbles and action. Sometimes the story is conveyed without any speech bubbles at all. We learn, visually, that there are many ways to tell a story. The Beano is so brilliant for this as there are so many different kinds of story there, especially when they run ‘Billy the Cat’ which is for the older kids.

Stereotypes and Archetypes appear throughout cartoons and early on introduce children to them in a visual manner. Whether you are looking at Spiderman and Superman comics or the Beano these characters are there. Super hero or super ordinary there is a metaphor for behaviour in there to learn from and discuss.

Exploration of Mores and Morals. The Green Goblin fought Spiderman, The Fantastic Four fought Doctor Doom, Superman took on Lex Luthor and Roger the Dodger continually tests the patience of those around him. Each time hero meets villain or naughty schoolboy tests his parents we see the characters exploring the outcome. Think bubbles are so good at helping us explore motivations, after all we can’t always be sure what the other person is thinking. Life isn’t like an episode of The Mentalist so the visual metaphors in comic books help us learn our way round relationships and means of communication.

The Comic Strip is one of the greatest storytelling forms ever created and has been around since before the written word. The stories told on the cave walls at Lascaux in southwestern France tell us the stories of Paleolithic hunters and their dreams and escapades.

I realise this is a rather boy-centric view from the titles I’ve mentioned but I’d be interested in knowing what you think of comics and their place in the literary pantheon. There’s probably a thesis in here somewhere…

 

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There’s a special event this week on FridayReads. It’ll be a secret for a little bit longer but if you love reading and love books then you will love this FridayReads bonus.

Keep track of what’s going on here: FridayReads on Twitter and find out more on the FridayReads blogspot homepage and if you are on Facebook you can go to our FridayReads page there.

Last but not least you can add a Twibbon badge to your Twitter picture at Twibbon.com.

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Why should I take part?
We take reading and literacy for granted. But the reason we can do so is that over the past two centuries or more there have been some hard fought campaigns to make reading an essential part of our education. [1] [2] The ability to read allows the uneducated to teach themselves, it allows us to learn about and appreciate other cultures and ways of life. We can visit alternate realities and discover some of the secrets of life. Emancipation is the key word, this is why reading needs to be taught and encouraged.

Taking part in FridayReads is, in part, an acknowledgement of the fact that reading is such an important part of life and has been recognised as such for some considerable time. However, it is not only essential but it is often fun and that is a huge part of FridayReads too.

FridayReads LogoWhere does it happen?
You can find FridayReads on Twitter, just got to Twitter search and search for #FridayReads. You will need a Twitter account to join in. If you don’t want or have a Twitter account but are on Facebook you can go the the FridayReads Page and join in there.

What’s my incentive?
You need an incentive?  Well, if you really need it then you should know that taking part in FridayReads makes you eligible for some amazing, book related, prizes and giveaways. This can include signed copies of books and it has been known for people to win chocolate, which is often vital when reading Romance novels.

What counts?
Anything that you read but most people submit the books they are reading. Your children’s bedtime stories count too and it is great to see children’s titles appearing on the list. There are always classics on the list and the range of titles and genres is enormous. Magazines, manuscripts, ebooks. In fact anything that is written down. If you’re listening then yo can use the #FridayListens tag on Twitter instead. The Book at Bedtime slot on BBC Radio4  would count for this for example.

You can keep up to date with #FridayReads on Twitter or Facebook by asking us questions and generally joining in the fun. Look forward to seeing you there and maybe congratulating you in winning a prize!

Two facts for the price of one:
Dick Whittington was a real person, he lived from 1354-1423 and was a rich merchant and politician.

In his will Whittington set aside money for the creation of a library.  Another fine example of seeing the value of the collected knowledge that is accessible through reading. I only mention this because at the time of writing there is huge pressure to close or reduce funding to libraries in both the UK and US.

The Whittington Charity still exists today. Nearly 600 years after his death.

OK, it was three facts.

FridayReads was created by Bethanne Patrick @thebookmaven

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If you can read then you have the potential to escape into other worlds, to teach yourself new things and to gain new insights into the world around you.

Looking around the tube train carriage on the way to and from work I often see about half of the passengers reading something. Magazines, books, documents and so on. It’s like a vast travelling library.

FridayReads is another great way to get an insight into what everybody is reading at the moment. Not just those near to you but from all over the world. I think that makes it a very cool thing to be involved in.

Here are just a few reasons for the coolness:

  • The list of books is gathered globally. As soon as Friday starts in Australia and New Zealand. Tonga is one of the closest places to the International Date Line – See Tonga Time
  • Anyone can join in. It doesn’t matter what you are reading, or listening to in the case of #FridayListens.
  • Sharing what we are reading provides great real time feedback for authors and publishers.
  • We’re not looking at sales of books we are seeing the actual books that people are reading. This is different to the live best sellers lists you see on Amazon or other book sites.
  • You get to meet many people who love reading and literature as much as you do. I’ve met many lovely people on Twitter and look forward to meeting many more. You don’t have to be enjoying what you are reading to join in!
  • Many people participate for the fun of #FridayReads and many join in because there are regular giveaways. Some are the official, organised by Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven) and there are many others from publishers, publicists and authors chipping in and offering free eBooks.

FridayReads participation is huge. There are over 5000 people take place each week and over time our participation is – easily – over 25,000 people (I promise to work that figure out one day). You can join in on Facebook or Twitter by using the #FridayReads hashtag. Avid audio book fans can use the #FridayListens hashtag.

The official FridayReads website is now live (17th June 2011) Check it out at fridayreads.com and it is maintained by @erinfaye

Share your FridayReads now.

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