Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is the future of the Book?

On Saturday, I was on a panel, where one of the audience asked what was happening with the E-books and traditional publishing. All the authors on the panel looked at each other. It was one of those classic moments where we hoped someone else would jump in with an answer.

Finally, I piped up with, 'No one knows. The major publishers are all scrambling. We're all waiting to see which E-book platform is the most efficient and reasonably priced. The whole industry is in a state of flux. But I don't think the traditional book is dead.'

At which point, the librarian who was hosting the panel cheered. She said they sit around at lunch time in the library staff room and debate the whole thing. As the Chinese curse goes, 'May you live in interesting times.'

Over here in Brisbane, Australia, the Queensland Writers Centre has set up a branch of Bob Stein's Institute for the future of the Book. Kate Eltham, CEO of the QWC, announced this at the Melbourne Writers Festival. There are other institutes one in London and one in New York. If you are interested in this topic there's a blog at if:book.

One of the blogs that I found interesting was about a book on what happens in the human brain when we read. 'Reading in the Brain' by Sanislav Dehaene.

Dehaene says:

'As I started to do experimental research in this domain, using the different tools at my disposal (from behavior to patients, fMRI, event-related potentials, and even intracranial electrodes), I was struck that we always found the same areas involved in the reading process. I began to wonder how it was even possible that our brain could adapt to reading, given it obviously never evolved for that purpose. The search for an answer resulted in this book. And, in the end, reading forces us to propose a very different view of the relationship between culture and the brain.'

And there's a post on 'Vooks'. Books that are a combination of text and video. They note it works best if the books are about self help subjects like '90 Second Fitness Solution and Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes For Great Radiant Skin, which probably make a much better case for integrating video into the page.'

I think, in the future we will look back on the the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century as a watershed time in many ways. Academics will make it all seem dried and obvious, but to those of us who lived through it, it will be complex and confusing because 'we live in interesting times.'

Do you have any idea where books in all their various forms and publishing will be in ten years time?


Anonymous said...

In ten year's time?

As fast as e-readers are changing we may well see a blend of print, video and music.

Hopefully optional, so the reader can turn off the background music, or heaven help us, the laugh track. Will CGI be good enough that we can add in a few action segments per books? Maybe the big fights, or the first transformation from man to dragon. The scary parts, the tender parts. :: sigh:: the X-rated bits.

Personally, I'd prefer all the various media remain separate presentations of the book. Else a point may come where the writer stops writing and just does certain scenes in CGI and you can't "just" read it.

Mind you, the covers going CGI and standing in for the flap as a sales pitch might be cool. Arg! Wait, I thought I didn't like idea of book trailers!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I know there are a couple of projects in the works right now that will combine e-books with online content/cgi/gaming sort of along the lines of the historical recreators. And I see that sort of thing finding a niche but not, in the near future at least, being a major part of publishing. But I do believe the publishing industry will be changed in ten year's time. Between e-books, increasing cost of publishing dead tree editions, lower consumer demand for dead tree editions, new technology, etc., things are going to be very interesting for all involved. As an author, will we be responsible not only for creating the story but the formulation -- if not the implementation -- of additional content such as soundtracks, cgi effects, etc? Or will that be solely the province of the publisher without input from the author? And who will we handle the rights for all the additional digital material in a "book"? If we think things are confused now, they really will be in the coming years.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I like the idea of combining images and music with books. Writes are already doing it, playing certain tracks while they write their books and collecting images of places for Resonance.

But wouldn't this make books even more expensive to produce?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Exactly. This is what I was wondering.

And regarding books that tie in to games with online content etc, I lecture at Qantm College (Multi Media, Games Design and 3D animation). The kids I teach will be the ones implementing this kind of thing.

Chris McMahon said...

I was reading about the rise of iGen -- the first of who turns 18 on 1 Jan 2010. The generation that more than any other has grown up with the internet and modern forms of media. I think will be see a steeply increasing update of ebooks.

Traditional books? I hope they don't go away.

Anonymous said...

But how much does a packet of book, e-book, game, CGI flash scenes, with music cost?

How much goes to the writer? The gamer, the computer graphics designer, the composer and musicians? Too much altogether, and everyone starves. I think they'll all be marketed separately, possibly with e-books as the only piece the writer can really control, as all the others require multiple people with other talents.

graywave said...

As a writer who is about to have his first novel published in ebook editions *only* - no print edition is planned - I have quite a stake in the future of ebooks. This is a big risk I'm taking, of course, but I'm pretty sure that the phenomenal growth of electronic publishing will continue to the point where this kind of practice (ebook only publishing) will become the norm.

Within the next ten years, I expect an increasing fraction of averall book revenue to publishers will come from ebooks. I expect the 'tipping point' to come in the next ten years - the point where more revenue to publishers comes from ebooks than from print. Within that timeframe, the first ebook-only blockbuster will happen - the Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyer-scale success that will finally persuade the big publishers to embrace electronic publishing wholeheartedly. After that, the switch to electronic publishing will be extremely rapid.

Pioneers and experimenters in the field are already pointing the way to the future I expect to see where print books become a niche, high-value product. (Cory Doctorow, for instance is experimenting with print 'de luxe' editions of what is, essentially, an electronic publication.) In the ten- to twenty-year timeframe, ebooks will certainly become the norm and print editions will become the exception. The economics of publishing will inevitably push things that way.

Kate said...

One thing I can be absolutely certain about: any prediction anyone makes will be wrong. Which is not to say that we shouldn't try to figure it out, but we also need to keep an eye out for the next game changing technology.

After all, 20 years ago only a few people had any idea about the internet. Video tapes were the big thing.

10 years ago, the music industry was fighting the Napster war (we all know who lost that battle, even if they won't admit it), mobile computing was a rarity, and mobile internet was almost a nonentity. Oh, and PDAs were the next Big Thing.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


'Print deluxe editions' that's an interesting concept.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


One of my sons turns 18 next year and yes, he is very tech savvy.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Not enough ever goes to the writer!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I'm with you there. There are so many unknown factors, it is difficult to predict what will happen.

I'm just going to sit back and watch and hope I can stay published.

Mike said...

Did you see where Macmillan apparently is going to try to sell "enhanced" ebooks (with extra interviews and other content -- think editor's version, I guess?) on the same day as the hardback -- for more than the hardback?

The future of the book, I believe, lies in the digital world, with some outtakes to the analog world of print for people who insist on it. However, we're going to see some real convulsions on the way to that golden day... and at least some of the shocks are already starting.

Anonymous said...

I think audiobooks might become more important.

My husband used to read a lot but these days I download books from Audible to his ipod and he listens while in the car.

You can listen to audiobooks while exercising, travelling or doing housework.