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Friday, 17 February 2012

Modern storytelling

Bookstores and publishers are struggling to sell enough books to stay in business. But what if the product was the story?

If you simplify the relationship between writer and reader to its most basic level, it’s storyteller and listener. Conveying information or entertainment from one person to another has been going on for millennia, starting with the spoken word round a flickering fire. Every village had its own entertainers, and the most skilled storytellers attracted more listeners as word was passed around.  “Ere, have you heard old William tell that tale of the king and his daughter? It’s a real good ‘un.”

Skip forward a few centuries. Storytelling has been mechanised into books, and is in the hands of grey-faced accountants who decide which stories will be sold to the people. Costs are high so only a handful of stories are chosen, and that’s all the people have to choose from. Authors are on one side of a high wall, built by publishers, struggling to get over to the readers who are on the other side clamouring for new stories.

Skip forward another decade. Storytellers and their readers have pushed aside the grey-faced accountants and are reconnecting at last. The high wall lies in shattered fragments. Any author can be published, and any reader can find them. The most skilled writers gather a following and reach a wide audience as word is passed around. “Oh, you have to get William’s latest onto your Kindle – it’s brilliant!”

We are in an exciting new age with the most astonishing potential for writers and readers to connect. I can’t wait to see what can be achieved.

Do you think bookstores can adapt and survive? Is their expertise still relevant? What would you like to happen?

Bev Robitai


  1. Is the book dead? As a group of writers we certainly hope not. But we have to acknowledge a few modern-day truths. One is the overwhelming demand on people's time by The Competition! Radio, movies, TV, the Internet, video games (not to mention the great outdoors) are all our Enemies!
    The other is the way the publishing world has evolved with the choice of book to be published very often left to the accountants and not the editors. As Bev has so eloquently said, the great Wall of Divide has kept many a good book languishing in a bottom drawer.
    Books may be dead but reading isn't and neither is great storytelling. There is hope as we move into the Ebook-Age. Long live the Kindle!

    1. Thanks Jenny, yes, there is hope! For a terrific overview of current publishing trends, try David Gaughran's blog. He really has his finger on the pulse. His book Let's Get Digital is a bestseller, and is also available free on his blog site!