Sunday, November 04, 2007

Custom Fiction

I ran across this story in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It's about someone who is compiling digital information in such a way that it can be printed in POD format, but customized:

If all goes as planned, the book will be published digitally, and it will allow each reader to create a personal version of the text, based on his or her interest in reading digitized excerpts of the unpublished messages and other source material.

The librarian hopes to let people print hardbound copies of the book, each of them customized and unique. “The notion of the final fixed copy is giving way,” he says. “Texts are always in flux.”

I can see how this would work for certain types of non-fiction texts, but it got me wondering if there might be fiction applications, too. Obviously in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, there would have to be a "standard" version of a novel. But what if when you purchased online, you could choose between the happy ending and the tragic ending? The PG version or the R or even X-rated version? Abridged or unabridged? Maybe you just want the first three chapters, to see if you're going to like it.

I realize that abridged versions and changed endings aren't new to the publishing industry, but in the past, one hasn't always gotten a choice of which version to buy. Someone has to decide, for example that they'll print a certain number of copies of A Clockwork Orange with one ending, and a certain number of copies with the other ending. Someone is making decisions about what they think will sell, and if they guess wrong either they or the reader will be unhappy. But in a POD format with the reader deciding what they want, there is no risk to the publisher that they'll get stuck with a warehouse full of unwanted pulp.

I hope to keep an eye on how this customization works in actual practice. It might be fun to write a story that the reader can adapt to his or her personal tastes.


Joanna Sandsmark said...

I was surprised to see a book on Amazon detailing my family history. It's obviously a POD data dump, but according to the listing they already have 300 family names ready and lots more to come. Despite the prohibitive cost (it's a $30.00 book) I'm seriously considering buying a copy for my brother for Christmas. Doing the same sort of thing for fiction would be very interesting. You came up with some good ideas (alternate endings, degree of sexual content) that have real possibilities. Great post.

Vesper said...

Very interesting, especially for publishers. As a reader though I'm not sure I would like that. If the ending is bad, then let it be bad; it should flow from the story not be something we can just glue at the back.
Good post!

Alice Audrey said...

And I thought I got bogged down with revisions now.