Not Sold in Stores: The Commercialization Potential of Digital Fiction

Electronic Literature Organization
Montreal, Canada
14 Aug 2018

Download PDF of presentation.

Video available of entire panel, including presentations from Kathi Inman Berens and Leonardo Flores.


Since Will Crowther created the first text-adventure game in 1976 (Jerz 2007), digital media has provided ample opportunity for fictional storytelling to evolve. One evolutionary pathway has led to computer games, now the most dominant form of entertainment media. Digital fiction, however, has developed along a more understated pathway, and has yet to emerge into its mainstream or commercial niche; it is not sold on Amazon, Google Play, or Steam; it is not regularly reviewed in The New Yorker or The Guardian; it does not get adapted into popular films or television shows. Yet digital fiction persists, and in recent years has expanded beyond its roots as experimental texts created and shared amongst academics and avant garde artists, as demonstrated by trends in book apps, Twine games, and educational tools.

It is possible that digital fiction remains on the fringes not because the mainstream public dislikes it, but simply because they can’t find it. Publishing models for digital fiction have not yet emerged; rather, it is still primarily shared on the “gift economy” (Currah 2007) of the internet. Promising avenues have emerged in the indie games sphere in the form of Twine games and walking sims, but the generally single-authored, narrative-driven digital fiction has yet to find a solid footing in mainstream, commercial publishing spheres. This presentation summarizes the convergent evolution in different media, from e-lit to indie games to webcomics, and examines each for its successes and failures in terms of commercialization. It offers insight into the future of digital fiction based on these case studies, as well as the author’s own practice-based research into publishing and commercializing digital fiction as both a creator and a publisher (in the form of Wonderbox Publishing).

Cite as: Skains, R. Lyle. 2018. “Not Sold in Stores: The Commercialization Potential of Digital Fiction.” In Electronic Literature Organization Conference Aug 2018. Montréal, Québec, Canada.

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