Narratives for Readers of the 21st Century

Mireia Manjón

15 November 2017

At a time of profound changes, at Kosmopolis we wonder about the future of books and of the publishing industry. What will the tales of the new decade marked by artificial intelligence be like? The three Bookcamp discussions that we propose to you explore the commitment to narrative experiences.

The time to argue about how long it will take the paper format to disappear has passed. The new conversations about the publishing sectors and the creation of stories do not stop at the matter of the medium, they go far beyond. The form of constructing and consuming tales is changing and mutating through media, genres and formats. To look no further, last summer Manuel Bartual revolutionised Twitter with a horror story in the style of a radio broadcast from The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles. The cartoonist had us riveted to our screens, awaiting the tweets of his paranormal odyssey as if they were nineteenth-century pamphlets. In this tale, the written word was corroborated with images and videos that kept thousands of tweeters in a state of constant expectation in real time.

For publishing companies it is no longer conceivable to propose a narrative that only explores a single medium or format. The predominance of the audiovisual, the development of media convergence, the progress of artificial intelligence and the consolidation of big data raise a new scenario for the publishing world: the book is accompanied by new experiences that expand the social narrative and adapt to the demands of the interconnected society. This intense (and uncertain) transformation of the publishing ecosystem was tackled at the Bookcamp at Kosmopolis based on the following question: is there a future beyond the book? The three presentations that we introduce below offer an affirmative answer: the printed book format will be a part of the experience that future cultural consumers will continue to enjoy.

“You’re under arrest”. This is the message that was received by the viewers of El proceso, converted from that moment onwards into participants. When Belén Santa-Olalla and Nieves Rosendo considered the theatre adaptation of Kafka’s novel, they did not want it to be simply another adaptation. They wanted viewers to experience the same agony experienced by Joseph K when confronted with a legal process from which it seems to be impossible to save himself. To achieve this immersive experience, the creators of the El proceso designed a transmedia journey that involved appealing to participants (prior to the function) with telephone calls, mobile messages, street performances and profiles on Tinder and Airbnb, as they explained to us. An experience that is adapted to the current context of media convergence and that expands the theatrical format, for which people feel that they form part of the universe of the narrative.

The last decade was marked by the appearance of the iPhone and new mobile technologies, which have helped to expand the media ecosystem. But, what will the next big technological revolution be? According to forecasting expert Javier Celaya the next ten years will be marked by the introduction of artificial intelligence in our everyday life. Something that, in fact, has already started: the VoD platforms such as Netflix recommend what to watch based on the big data that their systems collect on us.

Of course, this technology will also be introduced into the book world. “How will artificial intelligence help us to improve the process of discovery of a book and the purchasing decision?” Javier Celaya understands that the publishing sector will focus on strengthening systems for the generation of algorithms. Based on the information collected from the machines regarding our literary preferences, the publishing companies will not only recommend books, but also establish patterns to understand what readers of the 21st century like.

Dan Franklin did not talk so much about the future of the book, but rather about its most recent history in terms of digital innovation. According to Franklin publishing companies are at a time of stagnation: the tendency to consume fast products (long read), sales of ebooks have fallen, the apps market is saturated, and the publishing industry has difficulties to connect with its audiences. This panorama reinforces Franklin’s theory: it is necessary to redefine publishing companies in order to strengthen narrative experiences and thus connect with consumers. If Pokemon Go triumphed because its combination of the real world and the virtual world, that means that the hybridisation of media, genres and formats is predominant. In the publishing world this is achieved by accompanying the textual content of proposals that go “much further beyond writing in an isolated way”.