Readerly and Writerly Apps by Emma Bradfield

Dan Franklin of Canongate recently noted the potential Barthesian “writerly” nature of apps. Having written to death (pun intended) on Barthes’s seminal essay as an undergrad, I geek out a bit when literary allusions are still pertinent outside the academic world (take that Avenue Q and your hurtful song).

Franklin suggested that books have the opportunity to be more “writerly” as an app than in hardcopy, because they “can be much more thoroughly explored on multimedia devices”. With some interactive apps, it’s most definitely the reader at the reigns, creating his or her experience, taking the lead and being liberated from preconceived notion of the Right Way to read a book. Indeed, I think Barthes would be jumping for joy if he could read the description in the App store of the recently released MyFry app, with its “non-linear structure [which] allows you to create your own personal narrative”.

In light of the topic, perhaps I should have started with the conclusion, gone onto the end and finished with the middle. However, in keeping with my essay-writing days, I’ll stay old skool as it’s easier to follow. No one is sure yet how the digital audience want to consume their literature, but the replica model remains tried, tested and successful, delivering a product with is faithful to the original, without disrupting the traditional reading experience too much.

I mostly agree with Joe Pine about people not wanting millions of options, they just want the exact product they want. At Exact Editions, the content remains the same, it’s the way of accessing it that changes. Reading your favourite title in print, digital and app, depending on your needs at a particular time, we feel is important. More and more of the magazine publishers we work with are opting for combined subscriptions, so that their readers can read content in three different ways without paying thrice. I’m not sure how book publishers could offer ‘combined subscriptions’ to print purchasers, but if they could, I trust it would be a significant breakthrough for the book publishing industry. Perhaps the book industry can take a leaf out of the vinyl market’s book, and offer download vouchers when the book is bought, just as print magazines come with reference numbers to be entered online to receive the digital and app.

“Writerly” apps, might be intimidating for some and a bit tiring for others, but I’m sure it depends on personal preference. Perhaps a lot of readers are happy with a more “readerly”, passive experience of reading on the iPad, online and in print, after a long, hard day at work, or on a lazy Sunday afternoon, without having to add to it? I, for one, prefer to curl up and just read, but then I’ve always been a self-confessed book-worm, and not a gamer.

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