Digital Publishing Reading in Times of Information Overload


Fiktion is a network of German- and English-speaking writers investigating the opportunities afforded by the digital age to ignite a new euphoria in the reading, writing and publishing of fiction. In February the Goethe-Institut London facilitated a workshop and reading with selected authors from Fiktion, in collaboration with the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art). Invited authors included Ann Cotten and Rajeev Balasubramanyan from Berlin, and Sophie Jung, Tom McCarthy and Adam Thirlwell from London. The workshop and reading were led by writer and Fiktion project manager Ingo Niermann.

Escape from Yourself:  Creative Writing Workshop with Ann Cotten and Ingo Niermann 

At the start of the creative writing session Ingo Niermann, co-author of Deutscher Sohn (German Son), and Ann Cotten, author of Verbannt! (Banished!), set the challenge: escape from yourself! The workshop participants, including authors, publishing professionals, students, journalists, film- and music-makers, were asked to drop their usual writing behavior to free up their imagination. Why? Because most plots found in contemporary literature seem to be primarily realistic, set in the past and focused on one individual, claims Niermann. In order to avoid getting trapped in commercial structures and to widen the horizons of storytelling, Niermann and Cottn set a different scenario and asked participants to draft stories for a biographical science fiction novel featuring a European conspiracy theory. The latter idea was inspired by Niermann’s recent participation in the New Narrative For Europe project. The creative writing workshop resulted in a wide range of imaginative sketches including a world without imagination, a man who tries to change the past, and a romantic alien story.     

Fiktion – The Project

“… 48,424 printed books and 87,201 eBooks were self-published in the United States in 2011 alone. This represents an increase of over 300 per cent over five years — and that’s not including the rapidly growing number of books without ISBNs,” states Ingo Niermann in his essay “Literature’s Victory”.

According to Niermann, there has never been as much reading and writing as there is today which demonstrates a real victory for literature. However, Niermann remarks that reading in an era of information overload raises questions concerning attention spans and concentration. Fiktion, an international digital publishing project set-up in co-operation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW, Berlin) and financed by a grant from the German Federal Cultural Foundation, sets out to address the issues of choice, attention and concentration in reading. Fiktion was founded as a result of a workshop hosted by HKW in 2013. At the workshop authors consulted with experts from the publishing industry and from the Humboldt Internet Law Clinic about opportunities the digital age offers to literature. In particular the discussion centred on the levels of concentration required in order to remain focused when confronted with the huge amount of information available nowadays.

Subsequently, members of Fiktion developed a model for using the opportunities afforded by the digital age to raise the profile of challenging literature and improve its means of distribution. The project addresses different issues within the publishing industry, including literature in the international context, authorship and e-reading devices.

Fiktion’s main objectives are to publish niche literature in a digital format in order to diversify the market, support niche authors, and to offer high quality translations of German niche literature to the international market. All titles published by Fiktion are made available online at, in German and English, and can be accessed free of charge. The project has also resulted in the creation of an international network of writers. Fiktion pro-actively searches for exciting manuscripts for publication, supports authors after publication and brings together writers and publishing projects run by writers, such as in the 2014 workshop “The Word Electric” at the Goethe-Institut New York. Furthermore, Fiktion explores and questions current laws of copyright and digital publishing in need of adaptation for the digital age.
  • Science-Fikcion novel and European conspiracy theories (detail) ©Anastasija Roon
    Science-Fikcion novel and European conspiracy theories
  • Poet Ann Cotten ©Ingo Niermann
    Poet Ann Cotten
  • Thinking about new stories ©Ingo Niermann
    Thinking about new stories
  • Sophie Jung ©Magnus Pölcher
    Sophie Jung
  • Public Talk with (f.l.t.r.) Niermann, Cotten, Thirlwell, McCarthy, Jung and Balasubramanyan ©Magnus Pölcher
    Public Talk with (f.l.t.r.) Niermann, Cotten, Thirlwell, McCarthy, Jung and Balasubramanyan
  • (v.l.n.r.) Thirlwell, McCarthy, Jung, Balasubramanyan ©Magnus Pölcher

Enhance Reading Experience

In his essay “Literature’s Victory” Niermann writes that “reading novels has become like sex in a long and happy marriage: it’s still great, but it’s harder and harder to find the time for it”. Together with Arthur Jacobs, Professor for Experimental and Neurocognitive Psychology at Freie Universität Berlin, Fiction developed a new reading format which encourages concentration to make it easier to get to the climax and finish reading a novel successfully. The online e-reader which they developed is an open-source programme and books published by Fiktion can be read for free at With its new design it facilitates a more focused and enhanced reading experience. Once adjusted by the reader, the text moves automatically across the screen in line with the reading speed. Font size and shading of the text and background can also be set according to the user’s preference.   

Readings by Ann Cotten, Rajeev Balasubramanyam and Sophie Jung

At a public event at the ICA, authors Ann Cotten, Rajeev Balasubramanyam and Sophie Jung presented current works. Ann Cotten presented some of her recent poems and proved that she knows the craft of words. Her work is, as described in an article in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, absolutely wicked.
Rajeev Balasubramanyam and Sophie Jung presented their texts using Fiktion’s new online e-reading format. The audience followed the writers’ texts on the big screen whilst they were read out by the authors. The text moved according to the presenter’s speaking speed. The authors stood at the side of the stage to allow the audience to entirely focus on the text on the screen and the writer’s voice. The reader helped a lot not to fall behind as Sophie Jung has an impressive speed of speech. The live readings demonstrated successfully how publishing in the digital age offers new ways of enhancing our reading experience.

Visit to discover new authors and to try out the new online e-reader!
The event concluded with an open discussion around publishing in the digital age with UK-based writers Adam Thirlwell and Tom McCarthy.