The publishing industry has undergone many changes over the last few years, many of which can be attributed to the disruptions brought about by digital technologies. Alongside the rise of self-/ indie- publishing we are also seeing new types of publisher emerge, publishers who are turning traditional models and methods on their head and finding new ways of doing things. In our ‘New Publisher’ series we interview some of them about their approaches and what they hope to achieve by doing things differently.
New platforms, new distributors, new genres … digital publishing has redefined the way we create and consume literature in the twenty-first century. Not only has the ‘how’ been redefined, the ‘what’ has too: what we read and write and what we define as literature are evolving.
Based in Berlin, Mikrotext has found their niche publishing shorter works of contemporary fiction and non-fiction in eBook format. It’s first publication featured Facebook updates from Aboud Saeed – described as the ‘Syrian Bukowski’ – who was posting from Syria in the midst of the turmoil.
Mikrotext’s founder, Nikola Richter is an author and editor and curator of the Net Culture strand of Berlin Festival. We caught up with her to find out more about Mikrotext and to get her views on the state of digital publishing in Germany.
1. When did you decide to start Mikrotext?
I’ve always been into blogging and publishing but in 2012 a British Council scholarship gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into digital publishing. Soon after, in January 2013 I set up Mikrotext and the very first edition came out in March that year. We published an essay by philosopher Alexander Kluge, and status updates from the young Syrian writer, Aboud Saeed. It was so successful we edited a print version of his eBook and published it in English: The Smartest Guy on Facebook.
2. Which genres of work is Mikrotext publishing?
New forms of writing that develop on or with the web – unique digital realities. I’ve mentioned Aboud Saeed’s Facebook status updates. Aboud does not regard himself as a Facebooker, but as a writer, and his works are considered to be literary short texts and prose. We’ve also published an essay on genesis (The Magpie Experiment by Jan Kuhlbrodt) which started as a blog. The most experimental eBook so far was a collection of spam mail received by the Munich essayist, Thomas Palzer, Spam Poetry. But we’re also interested in other short prose, such as short stories, novellas and essays. The eBooks we publish are in our editions are thematically-linked, and contemporary issues such as ‘freedom on the web’ and ‘how to deal with creation and autonomy’. The upcoming topic is surveillance – and will comprise a novella and an essay.
3. Why focus on shorter works?
Reading habits have changed dramatically in the digital age and at any one time we can be reading several articles in multiple open browser windows, switching from text to text, device to device. Often when we open a new page, we scroll about looking for keywords and to check how long the articles is. Sometimes we read only part of an article or sections that are not necessarily connected. With Mikrotext, we wanted to recreate a proper concentrated reading experience on the screen, and I think the eBook allows this: it’s not browser-based and there is nothing to distract you from reading. Some of the available eBooks however don’t offer quality shorter texts, and by this I mean, texts that are longer than a newspaper article but shorter than a novel – shorter works of prose and non-fiction that can be read on a journey, on the tube, or while waiting at the doctor, that can be carried around and are available when you want or need them.
4. What’s happening in the German eBook market? Does it reflect the experience of other European countries such as the United Kingdom?
I think it is very difficult to compare reading habits in different languages and countries. Germany is one of the biggest book markets in the world with a huge number of books being published each year per capita. There is a vast readership and a prolific landscape of bookshops, despite Amazon. From what I know, the developments in the US and Great Britain are strongly linked due to language, economics and politics. The epublishing situation in other European countries is totally different. At a book fair, a Polish publisher told me that the eBook is virtually non-existent, though some are experimenting with access-free education online. In France, publisher Moyen-Courrier, has started to publish new journalism from American magazines. Here in Germany things have been moving very quickly since the start of 2013. In Berlin, you’ll now find ten or more epublishers, plus several epublishing start-ups, and my guess is that Berlin will become Europe’s international epublishing city. Amazon recently launched its Amazon Kindle Singles in German – pretty late timing considering the number of domestic publishing houses which are already up and running. I think the indie publishers had good timing!
5. What’s the future of digital publishing in Germany?
We still have a long way to go. The readership is still very traditional. Smartphones, tablets and ereaders are quite common, but only the latter are used for reading. There is a big lobby in Germany defending the ‘Haptik’ of a book (loosely translated as look and feel), and promoting the belief that text is only readable (and valuable, for buying and reviewing) when it is printed on paper.
6. What does epublishing offer writers and readers of short fiction and non-fiction that traditional publishing doesn’t?
Due to its nature, epublishing can react more quickly to topics and developments in current affairs. Also, a text can be reworked much more easily without throwing away tons of paper. Then there’s the distribution – once it goes online, an eBook is global. It’s also important to say that epublishers also care about the texts they publish and they choose and edit with the same care as traditional publishers might. Epublishing is proper publishing but it is using the ways of the web.
7. What should authors know about epublishing before they decide to publish?
Just read eBooks and see what’s out there! You’ll find out all you need to know about just how professional things are becoming, and the possibilities in typography, distribution, multimedia, social reading and more.
Other interviews in our ‘New Publisher Series’: