The Future of Books

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

kirk_twok_with_bookI’ve been pondering the future of books.

Well, printed books, that is.

As much as some visions of the future might have us believe otherwise, I am no longer convinced that printed books are going to survive as a mass-market commodity. For those of you who know me, you’ll probably realize that this is a significant—perhaps even shocking—change in my opinion.

Even with all the changes in publishing and media distribution, I have trouble believing that books as an art form will go away. Long forms of fiction will continue. If anything, it should reopen the market for other short lengths of fiction (such as novellas and novelettes) that might otherwise have had trouble getting published or distributed.

There’s no denying the allure and impact of the eBook r/evolution. As much as I totally enjoy holding a printed book in my hands, I can completely understand the ease and simplicity of having them in digital form. Carrying around an entire book series on your Kindle or tablet is a lot easier than transporting them in your luggage.

There are going to be some people who will still want to feel paper beneath their fingers, and bindings beneath their palms, but I think they can be more than adequately served through print-on-demand services.

I was pondering this during the session at WorldCon, “Publishing in the Age of e-Books”. Someone asked the question about what would happen to getting authors to sign your books. One of the panelists responded by saying that he has them sign his Kindle and, when the back of it is full, he’ll get a new one. An interesting solution, but, I think, an ultimately unsatisfying one.

I’m not sure there’s quite the same satisfaction for book collectors of getting an author’s signature on a one-of-a-kind copy of a book that they got printed out at their local POD vendor. They’d have the autograph, sure, but the book itself might have no other unique value beyond that, as anyone else could print out a copy just like it.

Perhaps the next evolution in book collecting will come in the form of very limited print runs with the specific intent of being distributed with the author’s signature. It might also have a special layout or design that would not be available to the print-on-demand audience. I can see value in this.

I honestly don’t know. I can foresee current books becoming collectible antiques once they no longer become commonplace. And I dearly hope that the love of reading does not diminish as time passes.

What will the future bring?

I guess we’ll just have to turn the page of time and see . . .