Typical of a millennial, I’m either online or asleep. My handwriting is so bad that it looks like a ransom note, and I deeply struggle to read physical books. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just that words on a page can’t hold my attention when I’m used to watching TV on my laptop while scrolling Instagram on my iPhone while taking photos on my selfie stick while collating memes that relate to my life. Thankfully there’s an answer for my desire to read books without having to leave the internet, my spiritual birthplace.
Electronic books are no new thing. The idea of books that cannot be printed, however, is something that you may not have contemplated. Editions At Play is an online bookstore that trades solely in "unprintable fiction." A collaboration between London-based publishing house Visual Editions and the Google Creative Lab in Sydney, Editions At Play pushes technology to deliver words in dynamic and purely digital ways.
“Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen [from Visual Editions] first suggested the idea to me over a poached egg in a small London cafe, a bit like a scene in a Richard Curtis film,” Tom Uglow, creative director at Google's Creative Lab, tells The Creators Project. “At first it was just an idea for a website filled with literary experiments, a sort of landing page for books, but that soon expanded into a publishing house for books that were so digital they couldn’t actually be printed at all; books that change as you read them or because of where you are or what you did.”
Each book utilizes different aspects of the internet/technology to bring the narrative to life. Designed to be read on your phone or tablet, the books are dynamic and interactive. The two launch titles are a good indication of what Editions At Play is all about. First, there’s a love story told through Google Street View. Blending fiction with real-life locations, the narrative unfolds through various locations. Called Entrances & Exits, the book was written by New York Times bestselling author Reif Larsen. Then there’s The Truth About Cats & Dogs, a book about a “failed collaboration” between two writers who start to dislike each other after working together on a commissioned project. It features snippets of prose, poetry, and diary entries, as each author—novelist Joe Dunthorne and poet Sam Riviere—is pitted against the other. Two more books by international authors will be released over the coming months, with more titles set for release later this year. Visual Editions have also partnered with Penguin Random House UK, who will release their Editions At Play book of short fiction and non-fiction essays next month.
“The point isn’t to change the way we read words; reading deeply is what we mean by immersive literature. So any good book is immersive; it takes you out of yourself,” Tom explains. “We are trying to find ways to allow that to happen but also add in layers of meaning or words that can only come from the digital realm. We want people to end up reading by accident, to spend an hour in a book the way they might on Facebook—only with a book you feel good about yourself.”
While tech has been central, there’s also been an equal focus on design. Anna and Britt explain that they were keen to bring together the different and overlapping elements of design and publishing (from their end), and technology and innovation (from Google Creative Lab). “We’re not the first to champion digital books with a strong design aesthetic,” they say, “but we really believe in cherishing the written word and doing so in a way that feels like a beautiful and delightful experience.”
The team behind Editions At Play are clear that they’re not trying to compete with, or replace, physical books. Rather, they’re offering a new experience for literary and technological experiments to take place. “I think it is important for tomorrow’s culture to try to combine the incredible potential of digital information with the emotional potency of objects and experiences,” Tom says. I still want to know, though, if Editions At Play solve my millennial problems. “Yes, for an hour or two. Then you’ll be back to your apps—but for an hour you might feel better about the small black box in your hand.”