From physical to digital…

Caroline Haurie

…a distribution campaign that re-thinks the link between reader, author and their book.

A year ago, I came across a book left abandoned upon a pile of empty supermarket baskets. I looked around for whoever had left it behind, but no one was there. I quickly glanced through the pages. It turned out the book was a free proof edition of a reprinted novel first published in the 70s: The Ward Porter, by Odysseus. I was curious to find out more about the story and where it came from…

The Ward Porter is based on the author’s own experience as a young porter in a county asylum in America. Odysseus happens to be a pseudonym for the artist Billy Childish. But the storyline is not the only interesting aspect of this book. It is the recent distribution campaign behind it. From Googling the book, I found links to the eponym Tumblr and Twitter accounts. They both simply read: “Documenting the distribution of 3,000 free copies of The Ward Porter by Odysseus”. The Tumblr is a compilation of pictures of places where the book has been left: bookstores (Foyles, Waterstones and Daunt Books among others), tube stations, parks, museums, piles of home junk… They make up a series of public spaces in London and around the world (New York, Hamburg, Cyprus, Cambodia…) where the book is carefully staged to attract the eye of the passer-by. The Twitter account documents each day the book is left somewhere new with hashtags and a link to the Instagram account, which finally leads you to the photo of the book.

An online campaign linking Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram accounts is a format widely used nowadays to promote a product; but the singularity of this distribution venture lies more in the intent than the format of the campaign. The reader finds the book in a random place, the reader picks up the book, reads through and the reader makes the spontaneous link to the digital campaign.

The intent is to reverse the way the reader gains access to a book. The physical precedes the digital. With the rise of the eBook and websites like Amazon, it is becoming easier and more common to order books online rather than by going to a physical bookstore. Lets say you find this book in a bookstore, among price-marked items, would you leave it or take it? What does it mean to find a book for free? Free to read, free to bring back home? I bet most copies are left where they were, waiting for a reader to bring its story to life. Not just The Ward Porter story, but the story that this book truly narrates: the story of how the reader found this book.

The curiosity and the oddity of the find encourages the reader to go online to look for it. And then, there it is, all set up in the latest technology, connected to so many places and so many people. The reader, from that singular moment of finding the book abandoned in the city, is now linked to a community of readers sharing the same experience. They are all connected around a book and a free experience. And around the same question: why?

By removing the act of buying and replacing it with the act of finding, the book and the reader share a new experience and a story in the physical world. That story later extends itself online and becomes a community experience. The physical and the digital world do not negate each other here, they seem to complement each other instead. Reminding us that one individual experience becomes stronger when it is able to reach the many. This is how the physical world meets the digital with brilliance. This is the brilliance of this venture.

This campaign questions the link between writing and publishing. Self-publishing online has become popular among writers and is a good way to find broader audiences, yet, often, it does not add to the creative work. Here, the distribution campaign provokes, questions, and engages the reader. It tells us that the way a physical book is released, marketed and distributed can be a part of the creative process. The book starts to mean something even before it is read.

 

Caroline Haurie is a fiction writer working on her first novel in French, Sans visage et sans corps. The novel has evolved to be a broader writing project in which she hopes to achieve a publishing process that will mirror the intention of her writing inside the novel. She is very passionate about giving the writing back to the characters through the exploration of changing points of view and the slow disappearance of both author and narrator in the story. She currently lives in London where she works as a freelance writer.

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