Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yes, I think we will remix novels.

What if we could all edit and remix other author's novels, and share our edits?

Imagine an ebook supplier did this:

They release user-friendly software that lets you edit the novels you bought, on your computer. It doesn't let you export the edited text, though.
You can, however, upload and share those edits you made.
Anyone who also owns the novel as an ebook can download these edits and switch them on or off as they like. Without the original texts: no use.

Readers can choose to highlight the edits or not, but if the edits are activated it will always say REMIX somewhere in the corner of your ereader. There will be no question that what you are reading is NOT as originally intended by the author.
The original book always stays intact - you can't overwrite it.

Authors can opt out, so their books cannot be edited.
Offensive edits can be flagged up. The author may contractually have secured the right to veto edits they detest. The ebook supplier/publisher may also choose not to host certain edits.

Maybe there is a test-run with out of copyright books. But there's no money in that, so we move on, and start to unlock recent books.

Things that will happen:

People will change grammar, change endings, save characters from death, kill others, make everyone have sex and generally do stuff that the author finds very irksome. Hopefully the author does not plunge into depression. Maybe they are inspired, amused, amazed.

There will be attempts to use the system for censorship: people will add and remove religion, sex, politics. Some parents will demand a feature that locks certain approved versions. Hopefully, children will not be deprived of access to the original versions, though they shouldn't get free access to edits because there will be much tentacle-porn and mindless violence available.

Some unacceptable things will happen. Some troll tries to redeem Humbert Humbert. There will be whitewashing. There will be discussions about where lines are drawn. - Thankfully, whatever happens the originals stay intact and the edits stay visible, and we can disapprove, complain, refuse.

People will change the protagonist's names to their own and change the character description to make them more handsome.

People will change the character descriptions to make them black, white, gay, straight, fat, slim, old, young. Some of this will be vile. Some of this will be interesting.

Some characters will swap gender with no ill effects.
Some will turn into vampires with varying degrees of credibility.
Some characters will suddenly have a clear motivation (especially the vampires).

Someone will politically correct "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will be conflicted, sometimes appalled, sometimes surprised about what we didn't notice.

People will edit in marriage proposals, for a while. The first one will be a brief internet sensation.

Children's classics will be modernised in many ways. We will very quickly learn a lot about what that actually means.

Some trolls will bully people by putting them into novels as victims, sluts, ridiculous characters.

There will be many crossovers, attempted or successful depending on how copyright regulations pan out. There will be zombie edits and Firefly edits of EVERYTHING.

There will be Reader's Digest versions to save you time studying.

Moby Dick will get REALLY short. There will be a competition about how short you can make Moby Dick.

There will be remixes using several novels at once and people will get very annoyed because a remix of three novels costs three times as much.

There will be a number of popular series where someone invented a new protagonist and shoe-horned them into several unconnected existing novels. People will get addicted and demand more.

Users with a very popular set of edits will get employed by publishers.

Some authors will try to throw out really unfinished stuff for others to fix. This will work in some instances.

People will stay interested in the original. They will become more aware of the craft of writing and editing.

There will be an option to just quickly check various edits after you read the original. Book clubs will like that option.

Some readers will buy books that they would NEVER normally read because yes, there is a Transformers edit of Fifty Shades of Grey, and there is a Harry Potter edit in the style of Camus.

Ebook suppliers will hold competitions to make novelty versions that they think will shift more copies. They will also commission the, but never pay enough money, probably. 

Then non-fiction books get opened up.

Some awesome stuff will happen.
Much totally stupid chaos will happen.

Ebook sales will soar.

And that last point… is why I think this is ACTUALLY RATHER LIKELY, FOLKS.

Don't you think?


Kevan said...

I'm not so sure. We've had fan fiction floating around in the background for a long time now, and it's never been embraced by the original authors, has it? And the video equivalent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_edit), which is much closer to your idea here, seems to have remained underground. Ebooks do potentially change that game, though, if the fanfic version is just as easy to obtain (and feels equally as "real") as the original.

Gwyn said...

Authors will embrace it if readers do. Readers will embrace it if the process is absolutely friction-free. After all, we had ebooks for years before the kindle, but nobody cared. I think this will come down to the quality of the software.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Fan fiction makes the publishers no money, but this would.
They could also control it, so they would not need to keep that nervous distance that fan fiction usually needs. It would be a challenge to implement controls that people accept while still keeping the offensive stuff in check. I can see it failing ridiculously on first attempt (too few texts, frustrating waiting times for clearance, twee design, boring or ludicrous rubbish getting too much attention...)

Also, dealing with video files is harder than text files, and users can't easily shoot new scenes to use in video. Writing new scenes - anyone can do that, if maybe not well.

I agree, it would also hinge on it being easy to obtain the edits - the obvious way would be for them to be hosted in the same place as the original books, an official, completely integrated system. It could be really neat - resolving conflicts when applying multiple edits would be cool.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Another thing: authors sometimes don't agree 100% with the final published version themselves. They may feel like rewriting the lot, or they may have deleted scenes that they do rather like after all. - There would be director's cut versions o_O REALLY LONG VERSIONS with all the stuff put back in. And then new edits of that version. ARGH. YAY. ARGH.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Another use: students buy an ebook and then apply their teacher's edit. Then they have the short, annotated version they need to read for their course.
If they are interested, they can expand it and read more.