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If You Won't Listen to Me - Listen to Margaret Atwood
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Canadian author Margaret Atwood. - Canadian author Margaret Atwood. | Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press Time to LeadNo e-books without authors, Atwood reminds us by ROSALIND PORTER Globe and Mail Update

When Margaret Atwood opened the annual Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York last month, it felt like something of a coup for us publishers. At a moment when our business is being infiltrated by digital “experts” and “innovators,” whose interest in (and knowledge of) regular old book publishing can be rather patchy and slightly suspicious, here was a real writer giving the keynote.

Putting aside her reputation as one of Canada’s most celebrated authors, Ms. Atwood’s interest in technology and the ways in which it shapes civil society has featured in many of her novels, most recently, The Year of the Flood. She has embraced blogging and tweeting and, lest we forget, is the inventor of the LongPen. And in her characteristically direct way, she reminded the audience at Tools of Change that authors matter – that without the words they produce, day in, day out, there would be no e-books or enhanced apps.

As publishers, editors and writers continue to brace themselves for the great unknown, I followed up with her on the so-called digital revolution that continues to ruffle the publishing industry’s feathers.

History has shown us that societies and cultures develop as the means of transmitting and receiving knowledge change and increase. Here we are now, at another “watershed moment” with the onset of e-books.

The intention is the same: that is, to get stuff from here to there, and from then to now. The author communicates with the book; the book communicates with the reader, and e-books are another connection between them. Whether the technology is printing a text on a Xerox machine or reading it in a book or writing it on a wall, there is always a triangle: writer, text, reader.

You and I have talked before about how we don’t yet know if the act of reading in e-form is neurologically distinct from the act of reading on the page – but we do know that e-books promote different methods of reading: reading enhanced by video and sound, and apps that invite readers to skip and skim through books. Do you worry that technologies that encourage non-linear reading will affect the way you are trying to communicate with your readers?