Digital First

19.11.2012, 09:37
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Several months ago Strelka Press launched its first seven titles on iBooks, the Apple bookstore service. This was an expansion from the Amazon platform, where our publications have been available since May. This now means that Strelka Press is a truly cross-platform publishing house, accessible on a vast range of e-reading devices (including the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and others).

As we go forward, the number and diversity of digital devices and marketplaces will only increase — and our philosophy is to expand with them. We believe powerfully that digital publishing is one of the most exciting paradigms of the 21st century. In part, because it suggests completely new models for the print business, but mostly because of its opportunities to change the way in which ideas are digested and shared.

Certainly, this relates to the decades-old discussion about the value of online journalism (and all the questions of authority, reliability and transparency that go with it). More generally, the point is about the decentralization of information channels (although recently there has been speculation that even blogging may be being progressively surpassed by Twitter and other micro-news services).

Those that decry the digital movement are invariably the same traditional print media institutions whose business models have simply been unable to adapt to the Internet. This seems to be changing somewhat, as more and more publications go digital. In the design field the most notable examples are perhaps Domus, Icon, and Architect’s Journal, who have all launched iPad editions in the last six months. Equally, mainstream publications like Newsweek are ceasing print altogether, and hurling themselves into the informatic void.

However, the growing popularity of digital reading also has a lot to do with recent changes in the way we read, as much as what it is we’re reading. In other words, the delivery platform is now as significant a factor as the content.

A recent Amazon advert highlights how the social reception of their service — “One-Click” purchasing with doorstep delivery — seemed impossibly impractical even ten years ago, and today it seems not only unremarkable, but invaluable. They speculate that the continued evolution of handheld devices, and the general decline of Personal Computers, is about to change the digital landscape in a profound way (obviously they see their own products as central to this revolution).

Another telling example of this social change is an advert for a new Nintendo device. It features two attractive women in their late-20s solving game puzzles collaboratively over coffee. Not only has Nintendo’s target demographic shifted dramatically since I was a kid (in the early 90s computer games were still predominately the province of boys), but the way in which the games are played has also evolved. Multiplayer used to describe an extension of a game’s one-player mode, today it describes a social activity in which the object of the game is to build friendships.

This is not altogether surprising: an entire generation has now grown up with the Internet and computers. The perennial fear than new technology is going to irrevocably destroy social interaction (which was claimed of the computer as much as of the telephone and television) has once again given way to the employment of personal devices as variations on essentially human activities: education, entertainment, social engagement…

Strelka Press positions itself at the forefront of this shift, and in a positive way. Digital publishing is not a decision to move against print, but a decision to embrace and explore its potentials. It is almost inevitable that digital reading will become the dominant mode of engagement with texts in the coming decades. Therefore, the way in which we pursue that goal will be integral to the preservation of writing as a key mode for the dissemination of ideas (architectural or otherwise).

Jack Self
Associate Editor.