Hybrid texts and where we’re headed

As we move into an age when digital and print can simultaneously exist, publishers and writers are experimenting with hybrid forms to create multimodal, interactive stories. Here we take a look at some recent examples of digital-print hybrid forms…

THE GATHERING CLOUD

2016 New Media Writing Prize award-winner, J. R. Carpenter continues to push at the boundaries of the hybrid form. Her recent project, The Gathering Cloud (commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts and launched at a Pecha Kucha Night in Dundee) explores the complex relationship between biological and digital memory and collates research into the history and language of meteorology with current thinking about data storage and climate change.

Via archival material from the Met Office Archive and Library in Exeter, along with classical, medieval, and Victorian sources, including, in particular, Luke Howard’s classic essay On the Modifications of Clouds, first published in 1803 she fuses technology and classical literature together. Carpenter’s work questions how we store data today and it’s impact on the environment.

In May 2017, a print book based on The Gathering Cloud was published by Uniformbooks and collates and extends the research that went into the web iteration.

INSTAPOETRY

Poets too are finding new platforms to showcase their work. Dubbed the “Instapoets” – a new generation of poets are challenging preconceptions and turning to Instagram. The hashtag #Instapoet has over 900k posts alone.

Taking photos of their poems – often typed out or handwritten – they’re uploaded and shared with hundreds of thousands of fans.

And this form is transferring to print. Writer and artist, Rupi Kaur shares her poetry on Instagram, with over 1.4m followers. In 2014, she self-published her collection, accompanied by her sketches and it was re-released in 2015 by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Today, it’s the number one-bestselling-poetry collection on Amazon.

Another Instapoet, Tyler Knott Gregson, based in Montana, has accrued fame on Instagram (currently 323k followers) for his freeform poetry as part of his Typewriter Series and Daily Haiku on love. He published his first book of poetry, Chasers of the Light in 2014, which collates poems from the Instagram Typewriter Series and follows the same aesthetic and freeform style. It was a national bestseller with more than 120,000 copies in print.

This new generation of poets are not only bringing poetry to the masses, but also inspiring creativity in new forms.

NEXT GENERATION PAPER

Earlier this year, the University of Surrey’s Professor David Frohlich won £1.17m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to research paper materials that would allow readers to “interact” with printed materials in a new project, “Next Generation Paper”.

Although projects have toyed with this concept before, including Melville House’s The HybridBook Project, which takes the concept of the enhanced eBook and integrates it with print media. Each book in the HybridBook project features not only the core text of the novel, but extensive additional material rendered in digital form—the Melville House Illuminations. The Illuminations consist of highly curated text, maps, photographs and illustrations related to the original book. Smart phone owners simply scan the QR code to receive a download of the material.

Focussing on the tourism sector, “Next Generation Paper” will go beyond this into full document recognition. Readers will be able to obtain related information on nearby digital devices, just by turning a page or touching the surface of paper documents, photographs, posters or books. This could lead to documents “interacting” with their readers as they impart information through links to video clips, animations, sound recordings or music, which play at the touch of a printed button.  These would appear on TVs, music players, smartphones, tablets and computers, with documents effectively paired with a device using the project technology.

SPANNING REALITIES

Over the past decade, publishers have been experimenting with and enhancing print books with technology, including Augmented Reality.

Since 2010 Carlton Books, the London-based publishing house, have been using AR to create interactive experiences for children in their Digital Magic series. The series brings to life off-the-page celebrated brands like My Little Pony and Transformers and works through downloading the relevant app on a mobile device.

And in 2012, Penguin Books partnered with Zappar to bring four novels including Moby Dick and Great Expectations to life. They were enhanced with AR elements when a reader pointed their phone camera over the pages.

This April, Sourcebooks released the first in a trilogy of picture books, The Dragon Hunters by James Russell and illustrated by Link Choi aims. Readers have the option to read without AR or of downloading the AR Reads app on their iPhone or iPad that makes the maps of the island setting on the books’ endpapers come alive in three dimensions when held above the endpapers.

With Apple’s new ARKit in iOS 11 and many others, including Google and Microsoft jostling for position, it seems AR could be brought into the mainstream soon. We’re not there yet, but it certainly gives an indication of what’s to come…

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