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The Future Of Words

21/04/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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An interesting convergence is taking place at the meeting point of publishing, media and education. The word, the staid old printed word, is blending with audio-visual and interactive formats to create heard, seen and experienced words. This is how today's readers, lifelong learners and consumers operate--attention is limited and experience is paramount.

At the same time, as a tech-happy business strategist who happily wandered into publishing (before moving on to branding), I have had many a divergent discussion--even till very recently--with incumbents on the topic of trans media. And faced the rolling eyeballs. Isn't it trying too hard, the argument follows!

Globally, convergence is already happening. Media takes the lead; eLearning and blended educational content are not far behind. Publishing is following suit with experiments in young adult and genre publishing.

[A] bunch of experimental startups and young indie firms are looking to challenge and change word norms.

It was, therefore, heartening to engage in a conversation at the recently held Litmus Festival, and learn how a bunch of experimental startups and young indie firms are looking to challenge and change word norms.

Words have always allied with the arts to create experiences. The interplay of words with music and rhythm creates mood and magic, envelops us in experience and emotion. The interaction of words with video creates immersive cinematic experiences and a curated engagement. At the same time, the static written word dominated the worlds of reading and education--transmitting knowledge, igniting imagination.

This reality twisted on itself with the advent of social media. Attention spans, already challenged by ad-segmented television slots, got even shorter. Conversations and communication started happening through static images, short moving clips, and 140 characters of text. What, then, is the future of the written word and where is its place in this turbulence of hyper-real engagement? Should it remain pure to its 4000-year-old format, when people first started etching hieroglyphics and text-based script onto cave walls, stone tablets and parchment?

Yoda Press, a seven-year old independent publisher, is bringing together illustrators, graphic artists, poets and writers together to create experimental digital books. Niche categories come together in an interesting way to find and expand reader base. Recently launched publisher Juggernaut will be the medium to distribute this experiment to readers, aiming to mimic the ubiquitous "platform" approach of many new age businesses. Media startup Scroll will disseminate chapters, increasing outreach and discoverability of this niche content.

[The current scenario differs] from the traditional worlds of media, publishing and knowledge creation, where a few powerful individuals become the arbiters of taste, know-how...

This same ecosystem approach is being adopted by Founding Fuel--a media, analysis and knowledge platform--which is creating a collaborative system of writers and thinkers, info-graphic designers, video producers and content distribution platforms specializing in other formats, to increase its own reach.

Just a few years ago, it took the allure of a Victoria's Secret online ramp walk to draw live internet audiences and create engagement. Brands followed suit, leveraging celebrity interactions to bring audiences online. Today, carefully curated content and the power of original analytical thinking, combined with the distributed efforts of an ecosystem of networked platforms and providers, can draw huge crowds for a live online event, as Founding Fuel is proving.

In both instances, these content producers (even as publishers and newsroom honchos and educationalists shudder at the word 'content') are creating products (in this instance, an augmented multi-format book or enriched interactive analysis) and becoming a platform (curating other independent content producers as well as creating an opportunity for a network of specialists to collaboratively bring unique products to market).

Communities are not just confined to content producers. Content consumers, too, are morphing into interest circles and coming together to interact and learn from each other. People easily self-select into online groups, aiding discoverability of niche content. And producers who learn to identify and tap into and nurture these communities will see their own circle of influence expand through the intersection of multiple individual circles of influence.

Communities are not just confined to content producers. Content consumers, too, are morphing into interest circles and coming together to interact and learn from each other.

Clearly, this is very different from the traditional worlds of media and publishing and knowledge creation, where a few powerful individuals become the arbiters of taste or relevance or know-how, and choose to define the content consumed by the rest.

Purists can roll their eyeballs as much as they may like. But clearly a new future is at our doorstep. Yes, even in India. The word, the original written word, is definitely not dead or irrelevant. But it is certainly stepping with the times, learning to interact and collaborate, shorten or lengthen, become singular or multi-format. It is creating new experiences for a new generation of readers, news consumers and online learners.

It is a start. But definitely a space to watch out for!

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