Does anyone have a clue about the future of books?
August 25, 2013
In the last five years books have morphed from one thing to another, to another, to another.
I am convinced we are in the middle of a transition, nowhere near the end of the curve that will ultimately settle into a new reality of books.
Five years ago eBooks were the new kid on the block, clocking in at one or two percent of the market. The people in corner offices in New York said they were nothing but a fad, a flash in the pan, that would wither and die, an interesting concept perhaps but one with no legs.
They were wrong.
Now eBooks hold approximately half of the market, and have replaced mass paper backs and to a large extent trade paper backs as the cash cows of book publishing.
Along came the Kindle, the iPad, the iPhone and the huge proliferation of Android smart phones of all stripes.
Along came Facebook and Twitter.
Along came a world wide trend of purchasing and reading eBooks on phones.
Along came a surge in audiobooks, which shows no sign of letting up. Audiobooks and smart phones are a match made in heaven. Literally billions of people now carry a smart phone in their hands from the time they wake until they sleep again. They use them to text, to survey social media, and to read.
Reading has not died but is on the upswing.
This milieu raises a fundamental question.
What is a book?
It is not a question with an easy answer. Five years ago, a person would have said a book is a paper item consisting of 60,000 words or more.
A person can search Amazon, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore and find any number of titles ranging from 10,000 to 200,000 words, all of which purport to be books.
Audible.com has titles for listening that also run the gamut from an hour or two to twenty hours or more. For a person on a commuter train, a two hour audiobook may be the perfect way to start and finish a title in one day. For an over the road truck driver, a ten hour audiobook may fit the bill.
Does anyone know the future of books?
No, but there are some indicators of what lies ahead.
Big money will tell readers what a book is.
This has always been the case, because big money controls the development of the technology that produces, and now sells, books.
There is nothing new about the concept. Big money has always told consumers what they want, and pre-determined consumers’ options.
And big money now is betting on digital. With the bet in place, the outcome is assured.
The future of books is digital.
That means eBooks and audiobooks.
The infrastructure is now in place, and the people with the financial means to utilize it will not allow what they have built in recent years go to waste.
The thing known as a book is a true mystery of the digital age, an old form, ever new, ever changing.
What will it become?