December 14, 2020 • History Factory
As we will soon turn the page on 2020, let’s take a look at what to expect in 2021 in publications and storytelling. We sat down with three members of our team—Creative Leads Corrie Commisso and Adam Nemett, plus Vice President Mike Leland—to get their perspectives on how 2020 unfolded and what’s in store for 2021.
HF: Let’s talk about publications. Are we seeing the death of the printed book in favor of e-books and other digital-first formats?
Mike: Not really. I don’t think there’s a huge departure from long-form content, so I’m not seeing some seismic shifts here as far as book use or book delivery. I do think that being at home during the pandemic, people have more time to consume long-form content. Some book projects were delayed or moved in 2020 but mainly for cost due to the economic slowdown.
Adam: People keep talking about the death of the book. It hasn’t happened in 500 years, and it’s probably not going to happen in 500 more years. People might consume content differently, and there are ways to make the same content available in different formats, but we’re not jumping on the bandwagon. We’re the people who are arguing for the power of a good book.
Corrie: There’s a project called Future Library where prominent authors like Margaret Atwood have written books that are going to remain unpublished for 100 years until 2114. They planted trees in a slow-growth forest, and in 100 years, they’ll take down the trees and use them to make the paper and print the books. I’m just so bummed I won’t be around to read the books!
HF: So we’ve established that books aren’t going away, but how is that form of content changing?
Corrie: I think there’s a desire for extensions of content and additional context around content. I’m noticing with a number of e-books that you can click on a link and it takes you somewhere else for additional materials. So I think with publications, it’s about finding ways with technology to extend the content and the experience.
Mike: We are seeing some acceleration in the use of augmented reality, but that’s more of a natural move toward digital. I find more and more people using an e-reader for space concerns. If you don’t want to have 20 or 30 physical books, you can put them all on an iPad.
Adam: I feel that audio is something kind of untapped. Not just audiobooks but turning any written content into things like podcasts. Make a book into a series of audio short stories, using the audio from the interviews that were conducted to write the book in the first place.
Corrie: Yes, that also creates an avenue for generating interest in a publication—short, snackable podcasts.
HF: What has been the most significant change in storytelling in 2020 and moving into 2021?
Adam: Being remote makes everything more difficult. It’s hard to see any physical materials you might write about, or go into someone’s archives, or go into a company’s space and just talk to the receptionist and see the campus. And it’s certainly harder to do interviews. I’ve always felt that the most powerful thing when you do an oral history is to look someone in the eyes for two hours, and everything else kind of drops away and you get that more personal story. But we’re living in a piece of history right now. This is going to be the most relevant thing that people talk about, like a big danger point for the next decade at least. So, in many ways, it’s a really exciting time to talk to people, conduct oral histories, capture their stories. You get to know how people are weathering the storm.
Aside from that, people now have the luxury of time to go deeper and explore more. That’s a huge change in 2020 going into 2021.
Corrie: I think 2020 has underscored the importance of digitizing programs and digitizing archives, so like Adam said, when people can’t meet in person or dig into a box of their history, we can still tell a story that’s authentic.
Mike: People are going to be in a pretty celebratory mood when we get through all of this. We’re in a tough moment right now, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s going to be lots of different ways that people want to commemorate this time, and a book could be one of those ways of saying, “Here’s the story of what we all just went through and what it means in terms of what we’ve gone through over the last 200 years.”
HF: Have you gotten any requests for specific types of organizational history stories?
Corrie: People like reading about people, maybe now more so than in a long time. I’m sure there’s an uptick in biographies and memoirs at the moment. But in general, the requests are more about supporting content, whether it’s a website where there’s more information or a historic image repository or AR to experience.
Adam: I don’t feel like it’s changed things that drastically, although some are asking to highlight resilience a little more. There are a lot of echoes from the past in terms of specifically the Spanish flu, but there are other difficult times when companies had to pivot or adjust or just kind of weather the storm.
2020 is one moment that—if we’re working with a company that has a 50- or 100- or 200-year history—this is one moment out of many, many others and they might want to talk about this, but they also want to talk about a thousand other things from their history.
Mike: I think it’s all about being able to look back at 2020, hopefully putting it all behind us in 2021, and appreciate the stories that are told—however they’re told—that marked a significant period in human history. Publications are critical to telling those stories and both educating and entertaining future generations.
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