Last night several dozen of us convened at the NextNow Collaboratory in Berkeley to discuss the future of the book.
Everyone came armed with passion, questions, and issues about books. More than half the group were published authors, so we were personally invested in the future of publishing. The opening self-introductions became so engrossing that I was tempted to declare the session an un-meeting and throw away Clark’s and my loose script for the evening.
I gave the briefest of introductions the DNA of printed books. I credit Aldus Manutius with inspiring the democratization of books. In 1499, Aldus printed the first paperback, sized to fit in a traveler’s saddlebag. Here’s a page from the paperback, alongside a page from The Social Life of Information.
You would think that five hundred years would have inspired a bit of innovation, but of course you would be wrong. By and large, books still come with one size and one color of type, unbroken lines filling the page, no emphasis or underlines or highlights or diagrams.
This photo from the front page of last Sunday’s New York Times evokes many of the themes we talked about. The net has changed everything. Young people read screens, not paper. Plus, we’re all potential publishers now.
Publishing traditionally provided editorial, production, and marketing services. Today I can buy very rapid, very good, very low-priced editing from India. On-demand publishers will print as many (or as few) copies as you like. And publishers’ traditionally shoddy marketing is even more worthless in the days of online reputation and long-tail distribution.
Our group brainstormed a list of what’s good about books and what’s not so good…
…and then we talked about editorial control, the experience of reading, cherry-picking the good stuff, mixing and matching content, and creating learning experiences. I retold Clay Shirky’s anecdote of the little girl eyeing the television and then asking “Where’s the mouse?” Is there any excuse for things that are not interactive?
The Amazon Kindle I passed around the room was so forgettable that no one mentioned it during the next 90 minutes.
As the evening was coming to a close, people offered their thoughts on the issues. Here they are:
Please add your thoughts in the comment section.
Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?, New York Times, July 27, 2008
The New Readers, NYT
Further Reading on Reading, NYT
Flat World Knowledge, Jay’s observations of Flat World Knowledge
Dawn of the Un-book
Jay’s experiences with Kindle, part 1 and part 2