The Future Of Books Will Be Digital
The future of books. In fifty years there will still be books printed on paper. However, these will be far inferior to their electronic relatives concerning price, value-added and distribution.
In the following, when I’m talking about e-readers, I’m not just talking about Amazon’s Kindle and similar readers. I’m using the term e-reader as a synonym for all the electronic ways to display books. So about a corresponding iPhone application and the like. What it’ll look like in the end is secondary. The bottom line is that the future of books will be digital.
Books Will Remain, In Limited Editions, Alongside e-Readers
If I headlined an article Why E-Readers Will Overexpress the Printed Book it would be primarily a direct response to the thematic headline Why E-Readers Will Not Oust The Book.
I believe that books will last longer than periodicals printed on paper.
We will all see the end of in print daily newspapers, magazines and publications over the next two decades.
Even historical events that lead to record results in web and print don’t change that. Because they rarely occur per se.
Books, on the other hand, actually have an advantage that opportunists in the print industry like to attribute to the newspapers as a unique advantage, their feel.
Let’s face it, no one with a functioning mind buys newspapers or books because of the quality of the paper. But, you read books longer than newspapers. Unlike CDs, for example, you keep the physical product in front of your nose all the time. So there is a closer connection to the physical product than in music and also in newspapers. And as the second-hand market shows, this bond is not as big as some might imagine.
It will take a while for e-readers to hit the book industry and cause headaches. Maybe it will take another year, maybe five. A fundamental upheaval in our consumption of books will continue for another decade or two, but it will come.
The question is not if, but when it will happen!
The Benefits Of Digital Versions Of Books
The moment an in mass compatibility with the iPod comparable e-reader, consistent price/performance ratio comes on the market; the adaptation will be quite fast.
Many books will increasingly be read digitally because they are so easy to acquire, archive and transport. And because they have added value over the paper version with metadata in the digital version.
At first, this will be quite trivial where you have to work with as few resources as possible. In teaching, for example.
Especially students will benefit from having books made digitally available.
Students will benefit from the lower manufacturing and distribution costs. Now these costs drive up the prices for the individual copies of scientific books by the small number of copies. University libraries and also standard libraries could be replaced with streaming-like offers or at least get a new, crucial additional offer through them.
For small publishers, it will also offer otherwise economically unaffordable books for a small niche audience, which would otherwise not be possible. Conversely, this means that the electronic selection will continue to increase over time. The acquisition of appropriate readers will be more attractive. Besides, e-readers make subscription models of book clubs much more comfortable and more efficient to implement.
Meta Meta Meta
Besides, e-readers will find their way into the reading society inexorably. Not only because at the same time daily newspapers and online media can be consumed more conveniently. This is also because they can enrich books infinitely.
With hyperlinks for example.
As Seth Godin mentioned, hyperlinks, for example, references to other books or historical events, people, may make the book more valuable. Or novel and secondary literature in a bundle, with a light change between subject and criticism.
Or notes and highlighted passages of other readers. How about reading bookmarks that are automatically added to my profile on one of the book-focused social networks like LibraryThing or Goodreads?
All the possibilities now limited to publicly available articles on the Web, to books, on novels and non-fiction, will reveal a whole new world to us.
Even if it seems absurd and redundant, as once delicious, when it took the stage, and you wondered why the hell you should put your bookmarks online, the possibility of public annotation creates a whole new dimension of shared knowledge.
If a friend recommends a book to me and I can read his notes and those of my other friends while reading, then reading and sharing what he has read will add value to reading a printed paper.
Let’s think that direction a step further.
We will be able to ask our books to mark the passages most frequently read by poets, one-person students, literary professors, or Buddhist priests.
Weinberger puts even more options. If we can view and aggregate where books are read, we can automatically compile lists for books for the beach or travel.
If It’s Possible, Then I Want To Be Able To Do It
Do you always want that? Still seeing and thinking about the meta-level? Certainly not. But having the opportunity to do so will eventually be easy. Without the possibility, something will be missing as soon as it comes to the reader’s mind to refer the friends to something or to see what others have to say about the last chapter.
Unlike newspapers, books will still be printed on paper for a few decades. And these will not just be in archives. But their reprinted editions will not finance any industry. At least not as much as the last few decades have been possible. The industry will have to earn its money elsewhere.
The electronic version, which combines value-added and lower prices, will gradually outstrip the book printed on paper.
I welcome that. Because I am more interested in knowledge than in an impressive bookshelf in the living room. And so I will be better looked after in the electronic book world.