There are also those infuriating time limitations, squeezing a mass of information into one of those ever-shortening slots, and the need to illustrate, to find relevant pictures for, the often unillustratable.
Well, there is now a solution. It’s got the clumsy title of ‘enhanced ebook’ but potentially it changes everything. You can now combine text, video and interactive graphics in one product so that the bold assertions that we’re sometimes forced into in video voiceover can now be substantiated, sometimes even qualified, in accompanying text.
My grandson Alfred helped to make me aware of the new media’s potential by guiding me through Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs. Touch the tablet’s screen and all kinds of exciting things happen, things that you, the viewer/reader, control. Then I downloaded Al Gore’s enhanced ebook Our Choice. Here all the claims of his earlier documentary film An Inconvenient Truth could be backed up by well-argued text evidence and neat touch-screen graphics.
So I decided that my next project would be, not a traditional documentary but a state-of-the-art enhanced ebook. I’d previously written a book Dreaming A City which had a DVD in its back cover but couldn’t get any Welsh book publisher to take what seemed to me the logical next step, to combine the elements into one product. Despite the success of publishers like Sourcebooks in the U.S. and Touch Press in the U.K., Welsh publishers seemed to find this step too far outside their comfort zone.
It was the Welsh television facilities company Gorilla who saw the medium’s potential and, with the support of all the Welsh broadcasters, enabled me to put together the 13 short videos that Cerys Matthews narrates at the beginning of each chapter. Then, with financial support from S4C Digital and the Welsh Books Council, Thud Media took The Dragon and the Eagle/Y Ddraig a’r Eryr on to its final stage, availability on the internet through Android and Apple’s app stores. (www.thudmedia.com/dragon_and_eagle)
It’s about Welsh immigration to America but I like to think that it’s also about the story of all migrants anywhere – the tensions they face between trying to become good citizens of their new country whilst also seeking to hold on to their language, their culture and their values.
Five years ago Professor Ian Hargreaves could see the way the wind was blowing. In his Heart of Digital Wales report he wrote about the way in which in the digital age all the media morph into each other at the edges and argued that digital media “represent the promised land for creative industries policy.” But he also warned the Welsh government that “without a stronger performance in this area, the success of the whole creative industries strategy will be in jeopardy.”
The great advantage of digital publishing for me was that there was no gatekeeper between what I wanted to say and the reader/viewer – Thud Media delivered to Apple and Android and, once they were satisfied that it met their technical standards, it went straight into their app stores. But the big snags are firstly that I had to do it on spec – no income whatsoever during its making – and secondly that the potential audience, those who own an iPad or Kindle Fire, is still small even though it is growing fast.
Working for fifty years in television has made me very aware of its limitations, the broad-brush strokes it requires often conceal as much as they reveal. The emergence of the enhanced ebook seems to me to suggest a way of retaining television’s benefits – the ability to make information accessible through vivid visuals – whilst compensating for its limitations – by backing up what one wishes to say with maps, interactive graphics and, hopefully, well argued words.