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Chris Meade
Interview Date: Fri 5 Nov 2010
    Chris Meade is Director of if:book London (www.futureofthebook.org.uk) and co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book (www.futureofthebook.org).  From 2000 to 2007 he was Director of Booktrust, the UK reading promotion charity which runs the Bookstart scheme and a host of projects, prizes and websites to encourage the discovery and enjoyment of reading. Previously he was Director of the Poetry Society where he set up the Poetry Café in Covent Garden and the lottery funded Poetry Places project which ran residencies for poets at London Zoo, the Millennium Dome, a gas platform, a high street store, a solicitor's office and many more community settings. In the 1980s he was a pioneer of reader development, promoting public libraries as 'imagination services'. Chris has an M.A.  in Creative Writing New Media at De Montfort University and co-ordinates the ifsoflo network for literature organisations exploring digital possibilities for literature (www.ifsoflo.ning.com).  He is the author of a digital novella www.insearchoflosttim.net  and has recently become an Unlibrarian.

Your Questions Answered:

What's your work with the Institute for the Future of the Book about? How did you get involved?
Question By: Wes Brown
I met Bob Stein in 2007 when I was half way through my M.A. at De Montfort in Creative Writing & New Media and had already decided it was time to move on from Booktrust and do something bookfuturish. We sat in Starbucks Kings X and Bob invited me on the spot to visit him in New York, then to become co-Director of his Institute for the Future of the Book. That was a life changing latte. 

With Bob and his team I worked on the Really Modern Library project, holding discussions which included Laurie Anderson, Momus, Cory Doctorow and other fascinating people. We raised funds for Bob's idea to put The Golden Notebook online (www.thegoldennotebook.org) with a team of readers commenting on it in realtime, and my homage to Blake, www.songsofimaginationanddigitisation.net which explored how text could be illuminated via digital means.

The Institute and if:book london are separate entities now, but both define themselves as 'think and do tanks exploring the shift in our culture as it moves from printed page to networked screen'. I owe Bob a lot - he's an extraordinary man.
The Golden Notebook and Songs of Imagination and Digitisation are both innovative projects and enhance what we what like about books in new ways. Do you think this is the way forward for the book as a format? That the first generation of eBooks could be a bit 2D? Similar to the difference between web 1.0 and web 2.0?
Question By: Wes Brown
First conventional publishers plonk conventional novels unchanged onto eReaders, then they begin to 'enhance' them with bits and bobs of video, then writers get the hang of it and start thinking of multimedia and reader interaction as keys on their typewriters, to use as and when they wish.

The most important thing for me about books as in works of imaginative literature is the freedom authors (should) have to shape their work exactly as they wish, in contrast to the makers of most movies, computer games, tv and radio programmes - and websites other than blogs, who must work to formulae and for vested interests. As literature migrates to digital platforms, it must retain that freedom, so authors will be as traditional and or as innovative as they want to be, looking back as well as forwards for inspiration.
Is there a danger that the likes of Amazon and Apple could gain too great a stranglehold over distribution? And have a disproportionate influence over pricing and the shape of the eBook?
Question By: Wes Brown
Yes - a danger to big league publishers, but not for authors and makers who can now put their work on the web for free, can put books directly for sale onto global bookshelves provided by the big guns. For the time being I'm not so worried about the battles raging between the digital Titans, because there are so many new ways to circumvent them and do our own things.

The app and the ebook are the latest attempts to create saleable chunks of digital material, but its still possible to make work in any shape you wish for a browser. Let's face it, on the one hand we want free access to things and on the other we want to be able to sell our stuff for profit... so every writer has a foot in both camps on the debates about copyright and freedom of information.
In the traditional model there's the author, the agent, the editor, the publisher, the distributor, the bookseller, the printer and the cover artist. With say mixed media eBooks - might we see an author working with a designer and web guys etc all at the same time? A sort of Warhol like factory? You've also mentioned authors employing people to do the digital marketing for them. Whatever new roles do you think could crop up?
Question By: Wes Brown
Yes absolutely, I see much more collaboration happening between artists, authors, editers, designers, digital 'illuminators' etc. The question is how these are paid for.

I like the idea that authors can either buy the services of those who help them publish or produce their work, or go into some kind of profit sharing agreement.

Some authors will be delighted to collaborate in this way, others will absolutely not want to - which is fine, that's the whole point: that writers have choices they've never had before- but these are genuine choices, authors can decide what works best for them.
What is an Amplified Author? How do they relate to the Unilibrary?
Question By: Wes Brown
The Amplified Author writes on a networked device that allows them to build a readership through social networking, blogs and the web in general. They're not defined by a publisher but drive their own writing life. From wherever they live and work they can reach out to readers and fellow writers. The Unlibrary is a local hub and co-working space for writers, readers and all kinds of businesses. It's a nearby place for us to bring our laptops - through which we can access a library of information - to focus on what we want to create and learn about, and to find the people and resources we need to do it better.

But we're still feeling our way with deciding what the Unlibrary could be - all suggestions welcomed.