Day 26 of the A-Z challenge.
Z is for Zoom
This time last year if you’d said to a friend “see you on Zoom”, you’d have been met with a blank stare of incomprehension.
How life has changed.
The name of the videoconferencing platform has now bludgeoned its way into everyday vocabulary. Zoom has become as much a part of our Covid-19 restricted life as queues, face masks and social distancing.
Everyone seems to be at it. Parents, grandparents, politicians, doctors, care workers have all flocked to the service. People have used it to keep up with friends and relatives, to host weddings, organise music concerts, livestream funerals and hold meetings of government bodies.
In the book world, video conferencing has provided a lifeline for publishers, booksellers and authors who want to keep in touch with readers and bloggers. With book launches, signings, literary festivals and all in-person events cancelled for the foreseeable future, creative solutions were needed.
Rising To The Challenge
Publishers, authors and bookshops have stepped up to that challenge with gusto. Author CJ Cooke was inspired to create a complete virtual festival – within one week of floating the idea she had enough support from authors to stage the Stay-at-Home! Festival delivered via Zoom in March and April.
Bookshop owner Mel Griffin at Griffin Books in Penarth, Wales is one of numerous booksellers to move her literary events programme to a virtual platform when non essential travel was restricted in the UK. Amongst the “meet the author” sessions she’s also hosting twice-weekly storytelling mornings for youngsters and a weekly book club.
Zoom is of course not the only place where these events are taking place.
The Women’s Prize For Fiction is using Instagram for a virtual literary lunch while the Comedy Women’s Writers Prize used the platform for the appropriately named “ChipWittyWednesday Drop Ins” – live chats with authors – while the folks who run the annual Brighton and Hove Book Fayre turned to Facebook. I’ve lost count of the number of book launches taking place via Twitter.
It will be interesting to see how the HayFestivalDigital works when that kicks off on May 22 since details are very scarce at the moment.
I could easily fill my entire calendar this month with readings, discussions, book clubs and other literary events. And I haven’t even touched on those taking place in other parts of the world but I bet they’re happening just as much in the United States and Australia as they are in the UK.
Is Virtual The Future?
The big question is whether, now we have got used to this way of interacting with authors and publishers, will we want to go back to the old way of in-person events?
For readers and book bloggers alike these virtual events are a brilliantly convenient way to get to know the authors. Just snuggle up on the sofa, drink and snack of choice to hand, click a few buttons and you’re in. No hassle with transport and at a fraction of the cost (many events are in fact free).
But – and it’s a very big but – the one thing that virtual author and festival events cannot offer is the pleasure of human contact. I get more of a buzz from being in the same room as other book enthusiasts than being on the same video screen. Sure it’s amusing to see glimpses of the author’s writing studio or hear the occasional barking dog and excited child. But it’s still not the same is it?
So I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that, once lockdowns are over and normal life can return (the new normal that is), we will be flocking to the in-person events like never before. I don’t see virtual events going away however – they are more cost effective to organise, so in a world of tightened budgets, why wouldn’t bookshops and publishers want to add these to their mix of marketing opportunities? I suspect it won’t be a case of events either in person or virtual but of a mix of both.
Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher of Knopf and Pantheon, gave a good indication of how the future could look in an interview with Publishers Weekly
From a publishing perspective, the economics of virtual tours are pretty compelling. That said, we are looking forward to the moment when we are able to resume physical tours.”Paul Bogaards, Knopf and Pantheon
What about the future of book clubs?
I’ve participated in three so far, all organised in slightly different ways. One was a videoconference version of our regular monthly book club that meets in a bookshop cafe. Another was more of a book chat organised by a book shop. No pressure to have read a particular book since we just talked about what we were reading at the time. The third event was one I organised with some neighbours and friends. Again this was more of a book-related chat where we shared our current book and the stories of how we had acquired them (you’d be surprised at the ingenuity).
One big advantage these virtual book club discussions have over their in-person cousins is that you don’t have irritating side conversations. People seem less inclined to hog the floor so the quieter members get more of a look in.
I don’t see them replacing the face to face book clubs but they’re giving me an idea that they could be a superb way of reaching and engaging with a new audience.
None of the people in my book “friends and neighbours” sessions have ever been to a real book club or have any interest in doing so in the future. They tell me they don’t like the idea of having to read a particular book by a deadline. But they’re all keen to keep up our virtual network.
Then there are the people who are housebound so physically cannot get to an in person event. Often times they are avid readers. Would a virtual book group give them a safe way of connecting with other people and staving off loneliness?
I don’t know the answers, just floating some ideas…
The Future For Blogging?
Every year we get a rash of articles posing the question “is blogging dead.” Clearly the answer is no – you just need to look at the number of blogs to see that it’s premature to start writing the obituaries for the art of blogging.
Not dead. But different.
Blogging has changed markedly since the start of the century. It’s use as a personal journal has slowed right down (replaced largely by Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook). Blogs have now become places where people share their know-how and their enthusiasm (cue book bloggers) and, increasingly, used to sell services.
It’s going to change again in the future. We’ll likely see an even greater variety of types of content (text, video, sound etc); longer articles and evident professionalism (ie, quality).
Forecasts suggest that live blogging will be a trend for the future. Apparently it’s like tweeting from an event you are attending, except your updates are on your blog. I’m not convinced about this. Personally I would find it irritating to have multiple updates on the same topic but I guess some people would be interested.
I’m far more interested in thinking that video conferencing could become another outlet for book bloggers who want to extent the reach of their blog. We’ve already seen bloggers like Modern Mrs Darcy and Sarah’sBookshelves launch podcasts and others like SavidgeReads migrate to vlogging.
Wouldn’t video conferencing book reading events hosted by a blogger be a natural progression? We’ve seen the potential of video conferencing so we know it works (though privacy issues remain). There’s no reason why a blogger couldn’t have a live audience while they interview guests or hold a Q&A Session. If publishers can do this and book shop owners can do it, why can’t we book bloggers?
Care To Crystal Ball Gaze With Me?
If you’ve participated in any virtual book related events how would you rate your experience? Do you think this is the future? Or do we just return to the way life was before Covid-19 ever entered our consciousness?