The Future of the Novel?

I've been reading Joe Konrath’s blog, "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing", a bit recently, and he made an interesting observation. I'm not even sure he's thought that observation through to its logical conclusion, yet, but his offhand comment read to me like a portent of the future. Some background: I used to do indie game development, mostly in the art field, but also in general production. I did some work in mini, indie-level MMORPGs. A few years ago, it was fairly easy for a small development company to ‘break in’ and make a game on a shoestring, put it out there, and still do OK. Only a few years later, the game dev scene has “advanced” to the point where even free to play (as opposed to subscription based) games have high production values requiring a staff of 50-100 (or more) people to create them.

When things started heading this way, many indie devs went to the iphone instead, and began generating apps; or they went into flash games and started producing the host of little games you see on Facebook and the like. However there again we’re seeing an upward trend in production values, and eventually – not this year, or likely next, but soon – we’ll see those areas dominated by large and well staffed companies.

What does this have to do with writing? Konrath commented “Ebooks are more than just putting your run-of-the-mill stories into a digital format. They can actually do more than print books, and offer artists new, exciting opportunities. And we haven’t even broached on the “enriched ebook” possibilities with audio and video.” (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/08/on-beyond-ebooks.html). And he’s right.

Now take this observation where it logically goes… Someone eventually will begin putting out ebooks. Not ebook reprints of print novels, but true ebooks, that take advantage of the medium in new ways. They will have flash. They will have bang. And we’re a culture that increasingly desires flash and bang in our entertainment. I’m not sure exactly how it’ll come about, but I am picturing something of a merging between cinema and novel.

Once down that road you have begun, forever will it etc, etc. Novels will become multimedia productions. Production value on high end novels will soar, with companies putting millions of dollars into a multimedia novel. And – not overnight, not this year, and not next, but eventually – this medium too will become dominated by larger business. Artists (the writing and the 3D sort) will still have roles, but the productions will require a staff, not one person typing in their living room.

Nothing stays static, and I don’t think the present situation, nice as it is starting to look, will remain static either. In the longer term, the ebook revolution might not just mean the end of publishing as we know it – but also the end of the novel as we have seen it before.

As a lover of books, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about that. ;)