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Rebooting the Book (One iPad at a Time)

“It is August, 1927, and Al Jolson is industriously, unwittingly, engaged in the destruction of one great art form and the creation of another…In four short years, the ‘talkie’ will completely subsume the silent movie.” – from The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman

The “Come to Jesus” Moment for the Book Business
Godfather.jpgIn the age of the always on, it’s fair to ask, do people read anymore?

Web content, video games, iPhone apps, Facebook sessions, YouTube videos, iTunes libraries, and Hulu media programming drive significant portions of our clickstream activity throughout the day.

Talking on the phone, emailing, and other forms of messaging sop up huge chunks of our free time, too.

As a consequence, book sales are stagnating, and have been for some time (this coincides with declines in all forms of print media – news and magazines included).

In big box retail land, Borders, the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble, is on life support. The independent bookstore is a shrinking breed, with less than 10% of the market.

Meanwhile, Amazon is the book industry’s boogeyman, given their market share and proximity to the customer’s wallet (the all important “billing relationship”). And the Kindle e-Book reader has the potential to entirely dis-intermediate the book publisher or, minimally, exert even stronger pricing power over them.

More terrifying, the book industry has no idea how to effectively market a book in a world devoid of bookstores, save for the hail-mary of an Oprah recommendation.

“Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter,” says one powerful agent. “Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them.”

And owing to a decades-old “consigment logic,” unsold inventory is “remaindered.” This is a euphemism for the practice of shredding unsold books and magazines. Not exactly green-friendly.

Rebooting the Book
Reinventing Media.pngIs it heretical to speak of re-inventing the book? Hardly. Consider that before the advent of the printing press, books were made by hand. No two were alike.

After the advent of the printing press, information fell on the same pages in each book, and page numbering, tables of contents, and indices became common.

Authorship materially gained in importance, and the end-product was a democratization of knowledge, not to mention a revolution in science.

To me this hearkens back to lessons learned from the way that sound transformed the motion picture industry; namely, it changed how movies were made AND changed what movies were.

Transmitter-Receiver.jpegIn “The Future of Publishing,” Sean Cranbury and Hugh McGuire do a beautiful job of getting to the it of what makes a book, a book.

They say that the primary thing a book has to do is “fulfill its promise as a transmitter/inspirer of ideas, art, thoughts, story, entertainment.”

Holding this “transmitter/inspirer” construct high, I would argue that Apple’s forthcoming Tablet computing device (the “iPad”) is the ideal vehicle to achieve these aims.

Specifically, I would assert that, in a rebooted book marketplace, an iPad could be a best-of-breed solution for:

  • Interactive Learning Device
  • Chemistry and Physics Lab
  • Story-Telling Narrative Vehicle
  • Information and Reference Guide

More on the what in a bit, but let me delve into the why (Apple) first.

Reading from the Book of Job(s)
My thesis is two-fold. One, Apple has built a market position that enables them to simultaneously capture a broader swath of the media pie (namely, books and print media in general) AND delight consumers and book makers in the process.

Two, their history suggests that pursuing this path is strategic to them.

iPhone 3GS-2.pngThe quick level-set is that Apple has created a rapidly growing 50M device footprint with the iPhone + iPod Touch.

They have done this by delivering a very dynamic platform (read: integrated hardware-software-services-tools) for end-to-end content creation, application development, distribution, and global reach, supported by deep application and media libraries, and a robust runtime space.

Equally impressive, their success is measured by having created a durable billing relationship with consumers to the tune of 100M credit cards on file (iTunes + App Store, Mobile Me).

Moreover, when you put their strategy under the microscope, a big part of it is predicated on harnessing the goodness of leverage. iPod and iTunes begat iPhone, the iPhone Platform and the App Store (read my post Holy S–t! Apple’s Halo Effect).

Therefore, as they move into derivative form factors, they will strive to cultivate software, services, and tools leverage across iPod Nano, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad Tablet, Macbook, and Apple TV. I have blogged about what I think this will look like here.

The second part of my thesis is that “learning” gets to the ken of what drives Steve Jobs, and the book is the best, most universal, vessel for an improved learning culture/experience.

After reading what follows, and perceiving Steve Jobs as unlikely to have changed his vision, it’s hard NOT to conclude that Apple is readying a focused assault on the e-book segment.

next-computer.jpgIt’s 1987, and Steve Jobs is on the cusp of launching Next Computer, and envisions the future of learning in an interview with The New York Times:

In the future, Mr. Jobs says, sophisticated computer simulations will allow students to walk through Athens with Plato, experience life in 17th-century France or perform biochemistry experiments normally requiring a $5 million laboratory.

”People learn best by being in a learning environment, which means that ideally, you’d offer a physics student a personal linear accelerator, or a ride on a train going the speed of light,” Mr. Jobs said. ”You’d take a biochemistry student and let him experiment in a $5 million DNA wetlab. You’d send a student of 17th century history back to the time of Louis XIV.”

As to the role that Next will play in realizing this vision, The Times notes:

Next itself will not write education programs for physics or history. It will provide software tools to allow a professor, even one without computer programming skills, to write his or her own ”courseware.” The software allows teachers to point to and modify objects used in simulations.

The Tao of Book: Physics, Social Connections and Persistent Context
Reinventing-the-Book.jpgFlashing forward to the present, I see Apple coming up with tools that allow prosumers, long-tail media, and publishing houses to create world-class e-books that take advantage of the native capabilities of the iPhone Platform.

Apple, after all, is a firm that re-invents segments (music, telephone, mobile computing) with conviction and without a drop of fear, or the weight of past precedent acting as an anchor on what can be done.

And, remember that Jobs’ other gig was a company called Pixar that did pretty well in reinventing the animated film.

In other words, Apple and Jobs are big game hunters, and they have the trophy case to prove it.

By native capabilities, I mean e-book formats and runtime layers that support touch, tilt, movies, pictures, sound, computation, graphics, compass, direction, and connectivity, not to mention very deep media and apps libraries.

One small example, as Dave Morin pointed out in a discussion on this topic at Foo Camp, is that an e-book could differentiate on being responsive to and reflexive of physics-based actions (testing out how gravity works, running chemistry experiments), a proverbial Virtual Lab in book.

In terms of the aforementioned Apple leverage play, a larger handheld device could readily handle execution and playback of HD-quality content on iPads and Apple TV- powered big screens, yet still be backwards compatible to iPhones and iPod Touches (and iPod Nanos, for that matter).

Most basically, this explains Apple’s creation of Cocktail/iTunes LP, a simple, HTML 5-friendly extender for the physical album and DVD, and iTunes LP’s concurrent support for higher resolution viewing modes than supported by iPhone/iPod Touch.

One plausible theory floating out on the web is that iTunes LP is proof of Apple’s aspiration to make it easy for the UGC crowd (user-generated content) to become publishers. Why not books (and magazines) then?

Either way, as the breakout success of game makers on the iPhone and iPod Touch proves, Apple’s platform approach is congruent with both big and small publishers. It’s not inherently zero-sum.

I close this piece with four different use cases that capture the promise of an improved user experience around a reboot of the book:

  • Travel Books: As noted in my post Touch Traveler: London, Paris and only an iPod Touch, travel is a very fertile space for a re-envisioned book, as it depends on good, timely information, just when you need it. For example, a travel book could always be up to date with real-time event calendars. Listings could be interconnected with maps, Wikipedia, live review sites, reservations/ticketing systems, video libraries, trip photos, messages and discussion threads, and fellow travelers’ notes of interest.
  • Children’s Books: Remember the Pop-Up book? It was the first interactive book, and it was pretty cool when I was a kid (before computers). What if you married the pluggable simplicity of Radio Shack’s 150-in-1 Electronic Project Kit to creating pop-up books? What kind of engaging stories could you create?
  • Comics & Graphic Novels: A format like the comic book or the graphic novel could push the envelope on good storytelling, especially if it was designed with the prosumer blogger in mind. I can readily imagine classics like Judge Dredd and Swamp Thing jumping off the screen on the iPad, not to mention the ability of storytellers to create multiple outcome forks based on different narrative paths chosen by the reader.
  • History & Science Books: Imagine learning what it’s like living through the current recessionary times with a book that is traversable based upon events, chronologies, or the road traveled by specific characters. A great sports book could allow you to relive a game-changing moment in a classic Series, or be game-ified to allow you to test your managerial instincts and see how different moves might have played out. What kind of pertri dish could an iPad enable, especially if it took advantage of the physical hardware accessory plugins the iPhone Platform can support?
  • vintage-book.jpgIn terms of social leverage, if Apple built such a re-invisioned book market, virtual book clubs will form around this ecosystem, plugging into LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to extend the conversation around the persistent media layer that is enabled by the new Book.

    Do people even read anymore? With Apple’s iPad Tablet device, my sense is that they will.

    Related Posts:

    1. Touch Traveler: London, Paris and only an iPod Touch
    2. Apple iPad Tablet Computing Device
    3. The Library of the Commons: Rise of the Infodex
    4. Old Media, New Media and Where the Rubber Meets the Road
    5. iPhone, the ‘Personal’ Computer: The Future of the Mobile Web

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    Comments: 33

    1. We like to romanticize and speculate what Apple will do next. It’s tradition. They put on a good show and we eat it up.

      I’m kind of curious how things will look once Google flips the Android multi-touch bit. Will the iPhone go the way of the Betamax? Probably not. It may cause people to reconsider their purchase, though.

      With an Android phone you get almost everything the iPhone has to offer with fewer restrictions. With the iPhone you’re left to speculate what Apple will do next. With Android there’s a whole slew of manufacturers out there fighting it out, trying to out-do each other.

      Should we be looking at folks like Asus or Acer to deliver what you’re talking about?

      Lately I’ve been wondering why we haven’t seen more large tabletop multi-touch displays. Personally I think it’s because people are too stuck on the 80’s tabletop video game idea of a multi-touch display. I’d like to see a low cost large form factor multi-touch multi-user tablet for the kitchen table. Something you could spill milk on.

    2. @Adam, thanks for note. The only qualifier to what you are saying that I would put forth is that my speculation isn’t from the clouds, so to speak. It’s based on Apple’s heavy emphasis on building a software platform that is now 50M devices strong, augmented by the fact that Kindle shows there to be a market for e-books (note: the Kindle player on iPhone/iPod Touch works great) and Apple’s recent push on the iTunes LP format, which is definitely synchronous with an e-book push. A core thesis here is that Apple is all about leverage of their pre-existing unfair advantages.

      As to Android, my gut is that it is inevitable that they will establish some viable counter to iPhone, almost akin to the Microsoft-Apple battles of yore but that a common folly in our industry is to confuse attributes with outcomes. Multi-touch in itself isn’t a game-changer. It’s what Apple did with it via the SDK, developer ecosystem cultivation and App Store that made it meaningful.

      In that regard, Android has a long way to go (best guess: 18 mos) before it impacts truly differentiated designs, as so much of this is software based differentiation, which is not to say that it won’t get design wins or push units, just that Apple has set a high bar in a segment where everything else is NOT until it is BETTER or a WORTHWHILE alternative.

      The downside of Android’s open approach in the near term is platform fragmentation, again solvable in the long run as best practices get standardized but a pain in the A-S in the short run.

      Re Asus and Acer, they aren’t software houses so while they will succeed with a low end or un-differentiated buyers, my guess is that once Apple’s Tablet shows up the market will look similar to iPhone, iPod Touch and iPod before that.

      As to form factors, up to this point technology cost/footprint, battery life and software was a gap since the last go around of these devices were over-priced notebook computers with windows and a clunky tablet type of function, more swiss army knife than re-envisioned offering with full understanding of the ecosystem surround required to make successful.

      Btw, sorry for the overly detailed exposition to your thoughtful comments.


    3. Mark, You’re right that book indexes become common after printing, but page numbering and tables of common were very well established long before the press arrived.

    4. @Nick, thanks a bundle for the clarification. If books and type were of varying size, did that simply mean that page numbers would correspond differently for each book (i.e., a better bookmark than a universal reference point)? Cheers.

    5. for graphic novels, a choose-your-own-adventure style is just one of many possibilities – the real power of the iPhone (or iPad) is that it’s a raw programming platform with a full-time internet connection and gps, which opens up an entire new world for creators. we’ve incorporated just a few of these in The Carrier (which just released for the iPhone on monday 🙂 but I think we are actually just at the tip of the iceberg for interactive storytelling… imaging changing words on a page based on the reader’s location (“While I was checking flights from $airport to LHR…”).

      programmable media like this also has a potentially huge impact on publishers – not only will it be possible to know who buys it, where they read it, and how much time they spend with it, but you could also pick up time spent on each page. imagine crafting an advertising campaign based on the image existing readers are known to spend the most time looking at. fwiw, I’m hoping to talk about our experience with The Carrier and some of these concepts at TOC 2010, but we’ll see 🙂

    6. Why you’d write a whole article that rests upon a fairy tale — the Apple tablet — is beyond me. You know it doesn’t actually exist, right?

    7. Great article. As a current iPhone game developer and a former publishing industry (comic books/graphic novels) exec, I think your analysis is spot on. Removing the physical media and digital distribution will completely rewrite the rules for books, especially manufacturing intense books that require color separations (comics and graphic novels) that are supported by a niche audience and require sequential availability.

    8. Maybe sb is interested in my article on the future of the book. Love to read your comments

      The disembodied book

      The age of the printed book is drawing to a close. But there’s no need to mourn its passing, says Jürgen Neffe

      In the shadows of the global financial crisis of the early 21st century, another revolution is gathering pace, whose repercussions reach far beyond the current correctable economic buckling. It impact on the world will compare with Gutenberg’s. And with it, the era of the printed book will come to a close. Dissolved digitally like sound and image beforehand, limitlessly copyable, globally downloadable by the million with the click of a mouse, the book is entering the world of multimedia like its disembodied cousins from film, photography and music. This is the disintegration of the oldest serially produced data carrier in terms of form and content.

      The medium of enlightenment is losing its message and probably some sense and sensibility along the way. Sooner or later bound piles of printed paper will be available only as luxury items in specialist shops, like vinyl records today. Even the most iron-willed bibliophiles won’t be able to get their hands on Gutenberg’s legacy in its current from. The collapse of the book industry, much as we mourn it, follows the logic of a long chain of bygone trades, crafts, manufacturing processes and business procedures. 

      The change is unstoppable, the only moot point is how long it will take to arrive. But we’re not talking generations. I mean, who still remembers the typewriter, that so recently so indispensable friend to all typers and texters? Aren’t we all witness to how furiously email is turning the screw on the letter. And Wikipedia on the faithful old lexicon? It was just 20 years ago that the world wide web was first proposed. Only the elderly can still picture a world without the Internet.

      Through nostalgia-tinted spectacles, the book might seem to be losing its soul – but if we squint into the future, it seems to be freeing itself of its body. And lined up to help this great escape are, believe it or not, the same people who give their all to have their names on the front covers of printed works. For the writers as authors (and their partners, the readers) the era of the disembodied book is opening up unknown dimensions – if they can do what culture workers have always done when offered new techniques and opportunities for development. It is their “quills” that will make the book of the future and which will decide the future of the book. 

      If books can soon be read on all imaginable gadgets that simultaneously display images, play audio and connect to the Internet and other devices, then it is only a matter of time before their authors start to make use of all this multimedia, to produce works that have no place in Gutenberg’s universe. We will see bestsellers that never appear in print, mobile phone novels in instalments, which everybody reads because everybody talks about (they are already popular in the Tokyo metro), unprintable, multimedia, constantly updated, richly animated reference books, individual travel guides or encyclopaedias, which have little in common with their printed forebears, networked works from networks of writers, rhizomatic stories which evolve before the eyes of their readers, and plenty more besides which is not dreamt of in our philosophy.

      And from below surface waves a world of information and commentary. If you don’t know where Timbuktu is or why Nietzsche and Wagner fell out, will find the answer lurking beneath the surface of the book you are reading. All the reading groups who collect around “Da Vinci Code”, “Sophie’s World” or “The Globalization Trap” can now leave traces behind them, which every other reader can follow. We will be able to live books as never before – and if we so chose, we can always reach for the paper versions and read them linearly from cover to cover. These books will not disappear entirely. 

      But if we so choose we can click to hear the music that our hero listens to in his final hour. We can admire 17th century Venice, take a tour through the Vatican or the Pentagon, read an epistolary novel via email, or read up on the biographical background to key scenes in Robert Walser. Others can write circular books with eternal stories that never begin or end. And the blink of an eyelid is all that separates us from a glut of secondary literature – happy days for scouts on the trail of K, who want to understand more than they can grasp single-handedly.

      Whether “we” want this is as redundant a question as whether we wanted private TV channels or mobile phones or the Internet. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it never returns. Coming generations will not believe it could ever be contained. Like life itself, culture will crawl into every nook and cranny in an expression of its consciousness. The borders between the book and the rest of the media world will eventually dissipate as entirely as those between advertising and entertainment. Certain genres like the novel, the biography and the dictionary will probably hold out against the others and other forms the longest – until eventually we speak about “books” as often as we do writers’ “quills”. 

      The newfangled reading devices seem rather clueless about this future. Their strengths – print quality monitors and long battery-life – only veil their greatest weakness: they offer the old world in new garb. In their current form they do little else than allow us to read books as we know them – only on an electronic screen instead of actual paper, and in giant type for the near-blind. It won’t come as a surprise to many that you can now download whole books, even whole libraries, read them in an orderly fashion and search for key words. But in times when every mobile phone has enough memory to store and allow you to read a thousand weighty tomes, the hard drives on these new book-substitute machines seem prehistorically minute. Relics on release.

These contraptions are also headed for the museum, because books and other printed works can basically be viewed on anything with a screen – especially the sort of inexpensive multimedia gadgets that are cropping up everywhere now in jacket pocket to briefcase format. Today’s ebooks might just be Trojan horses, designed to disseminate new ideas among the population in half-way familiar packaging. It is easier to lift people’s reservations by getting them to download Faust or a Kafka biography first.

      That bookshops are selling (under duress) reading machines like shovels for digging their graves, lends a victim’s face to the revolution. Every last book which is downloaded or goes into circulation as a legal or illegal copy, instead of leaving the shop in print form, is a hole in the balance sheets of all those who, until recently, dealt exclusively in Gutenberg’s legacy.

      But book fans and publishers alike are deceiving themselves if they believe that the prime concern of the writer is something tangible. It can be nice to stick your nose between the pages of your own book, scribble notes in the margins with a pencil, see it in the hands of other people. We will still be able to afford this tactile experience in special editions. But that is not what we are working towards; we are interested in what happens in readers’ minds, even if it we are only peddling recipes or tax-cutting tips. That, and an income. It is secondary, then, whether the IP gets to the reader in print or pixel form. The first milestone of the revolution will be reached when the first electronic “book” graces the bestseller lists.

      Few living writers will not mourn the end of the book shop – also as a cultural establishment, educational institution and public space. But then few would refuse to digitalise their books to save it. And very few publishers would allow that to happen if it meant forgoing an extra source of income. But this would be the only, if reactionary, way to slow down the process a bit and ensure that a few not unimportant questions get answered. Like how will the authors of books of the future be paid for their work? Are publishers in the position to offer adequate protection to the rights of their authors? Can they find a solution which satisfies both sides? Or are we once again at the mercy of powerful monopolists with no other options?

      The prices for the current selection of electronic books make you wonder. They sell for just one or two euros less than the shop price for hardback books. Although, if you sold 20-euro books for 10 euros in digital form, that would still be good money, even if writers (and their agents) were to get significantly more than the today’s two to two-and-a-half euros. But although all printing and distribution costs including packaging, transport plus all the wages and revenues in this chain, and even the book dealer reseller reductions of 40 to 45 percent fall away, the authors do not see a cent from the massive gains.

      In return they have to watch as their now volatile products become independent. The publishing world quaked as it watched the music industry crumble, and is now surrendering to data theft before it’s even begun. Whether or not this will ever happen on anything like the same scale as it did with music and film, having very different products and customers (as well as downloaders), remains to be seen. Mass produce for infantile readers of all ages will probably be impacted more by illegal copying and downloading than the more specialised books for earnest readers.

      More importantly, we must consider whether we cannot do more to protect the German book market (which already has the advantages of lower VAT and fixed pricing) in the digital world, than just handing it over to Amazon, Google and Co. Most writers (like their partners in the agencies and publishers) recently woke up one morning to find that were about to be digitalised and appear online (no one was officially informed). On one hand this poses no problems: at least it might reel in a few more readers. On the other hand, it poses no small problem, because authors and their creations are suddenly at the mercy of the market whose zone of influence they would be better off avoiding.

      Why can’t the German publishing industry, which is more or less exclusively German, not offer its digital produce exclusively on a joint platform, instead of rather wearily setting up alongside the giants with little chance of success? Few industries are more dependent on the country of production that the business of producing text in the national language. But at least it delivers one hundred percent of the merchandise and represents authors and translators to an equal degree. It is possible to take on the giants if we stick together. This is not about protectionism and free trade, cars, soft drinks, TV series or pop songs, it is about the backbone of a language community and its culture. Such things cannot be uprooted and planted elsewhere without damaging its nervous system. 

      Only now does it seem to be dawning on the publishing industry that it has to reinvent itself (dictionaries, lexicons, atlases and maps have been feeling the squeeze for some time already). Now is the time for bullet biting and belt tightening. Even if sales remain the same, revenue will fall, jobs will be axed and many publishing houses will probably be elbowed out of the competition. The greatest chances of survival will be had by those who don’t only treat the disembodied book as an exchangeable commodity, but as a unique work by a unique author. Never was the authorial spirit of innovation more in demand, that in times when the book, as a set of data in the same technical format as image and audio, has to compete with all the other media for the attention and chunks of the temporal budget.

      To sum up the future relationship between author and book, you could say that a book needs an author but an author doesn’t need a book. At least not that weighs anything, that has to be printed, packaged, posted and sold. Paper is neither necessary for writing nor reading. Billions of sent and received text messages can’t be wrong. In the post-Gutenberg age, authors no longer require the classical bookshops, distributors or publishers to bring their labours to potential fruition – publication in other words. For them, content has triumphed over container, whose production, distribution and trade sustains vast numbers of jobs and guzzles huge amounts of energy and raw materials.

      No book need ever go unpublished in the future – this is the good news for the overlooked and misunderstood. Everyone will have the chance to present their work to the world, be it on open source platforms or social networks. Of course this doesn’t mean competition flies out the window. But it is safe to assume that under the mountains of digital shelf warmers, true gems are slumbering away. At the other end of the spectrum, then, the mass of today’s average, low and no earners will get their chance at a piece of the pie.

      In the wake of this global meltdown, which is wiping out eternal truths by the day, the revolution can is gaining momentum. The unthinkable is sliding in the realm of the possible. Theoretically speaking, anyone with a modicum of capital can start up their own publishing house for digital books, and with enough quality and output, make a success of it. The very bold might even come up with the idea of controlling the distribution of their electronic produce – and if they are also wise they will join a strong collective to better protect the rights of the individuals. Never before have unions of authors been more popular than they are today. And if the authors do set about publishing their works themselves, they they’d be best off concentrating on ones that cannot be contained between two covers: Out of Print publishers of unprintable books at the dawn of a new era.

      Services like editing and layout have long been available on the free market, and the publishing houses make use of them increasingly. The classical book people, on the other hand, might soon have to make room for strangers in their world. Competition could emerge from today’s literary agencies, or equally from entirely new Internet portals which, thanks to tougher selection procedures, will guarantee quality with their name. So why not go just take production and distribution into your own hands right away?

      If all physical contact to the product gives way to the fully automatic download and payment system, the 20 euro book, even when sold for five, could generate more income for authors than it does today. And it can only be a question of time before advertising appears in “books”. Self-help books, travel guides and recipe collections are the perfect platform for product promotion. Advertising in images, sound and text will generate such high revenues that bestsellers will be downloadable gratis. Lower prices could, in turn, boost “book” sales. Editions, income and not least the number of potential readers, will rise. Even assuming that readers invest only half the amount they spend on printed products today on all forms of reading material, authors stand to profit.

      And if they don’t? Then we are talking about another problem entirely, which effects not only the book but all other saleable printed products, namely a problem of culture in general. How much value do we still assign to reading and writing as a cultural asset and societal glue, beyond the reach of commerce, for children’s development, for general education, and our lives together?

      Kurt Beck was once asked on a talk show whether, as a democrat and Social Democrat, he would rather people voted for Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke party or not at all. Applied to the book this question could soon be: what would we rather – that people read from monitors, or not at all? Beck was no better able to answer it than book makers are today, with their eyes fixated on the demise of their guild. Actually the question is not how people will read and write in the future, but whether they will write at all and how much and what? But again this is no reason for seeing black. Already now in the form of mails and text messages, in online forums, blogs and social networks, more text is produced and read than 20 years ago. Of course this is no guarantee of quality. But the relationship between mass and class has not shifted overnight and not only in the world of the book.

      Increasingly it will come down to what a “book” offers over and above classic printed content. That even the printed editions of travel guides, scientific textbooks and other reference books with enhanceable functions that can be read on all possible devices, will have better chances of survival than roll film cameras ten years ago, is hard to imagine. Brockhaus encyclopaedias started the ball rolling and in the end, few poets will complain that their poems can only be read on mobile phones, they main thing is they that are read.

      If it’s true that authors can neither be protected from the legal digitalisation nor the illegal distribution of their intellectual property and the ensuing loss of income, and if at the same time we are convinced that our written culture must be nurtured and continually developed as our prime civilizing achievement, because writing and reading belong, even in the future, to the foundations of democratic society, then we have to come up with a completely new business model for former print products. In the beleaguered circles of newspapers and magazine publishing, ideas of state-financed print journalism are already doing the rounds. When people talk about “system-relevant sectors” that must be preserved at all costs, then first on the list is the press as the oldest guarantee of the fourth estate. If the state finances radio, TV, film, theatre and art (as well as motorways, sports grounds, coal) then surely they can it could help out with newspapers and books.

      So do we have to get ready to fork out a (small) chunk of our taxes or some extra tax-like charge for media content including what was until recently the printed press, in order to guarantee a solid basic quality for our reading material? I can already feel your free-market knee jerk reactions in my finger tips. The idea of the end of the free press would probably not even seem untimely for some people in power. And the same goes for books as vessels of free speech and unadulterated information. But if this crisis teaches us anything at all, then let it be that some things cannot be left or left entirely to the mercy of the market.

      Newspaper publishers in the USA are keen to distribute their own reading devices free of charge to their subscribers as a cost efficient alternative to printing and distributing their papers. This means they could then save their editorial teams and “pages”, even if revenues were halved. In the long run, of course, there will be no reading devices specific to publishers or distributors which can limit content like this. It would be like having TV sets that can only receive certain programmes. The ones that will endure, will be the ones we can use for all reading and research. Providers, ranging from global companies like Amazon to local publishers like Hamburg’s Hoffmann und Campe, have grasped this fact and are about to start launching content for iPhones and their kind.

      If we look at the digital successors of today’s newspapers, we are seeing that each media service subscriber can piece together and download his own personal copy from various sources, according to his interests and whims of the moment, wherever there is Wi-Fi or mobile phone reception. Once the electronic reading device has established itself as a gadget that virtually everyone carries on them, the only way to stop the victory march of the ebook will be if no one buys it and no one reads it.

      Perhaps one day in the future, we or our children will go one step further to save reading and writing, and make all texts and content free for download. Free reading as part of the fundamental right to education – and as a success formula for all modern knowledge-based societies. Open Access would not be the end of the West. On the contrary.

      Gutenberg’s achievement was that more people owned and read more books. The same can be said of the revolution which will put his work in the museum. When the history of the 21st century is written by generations to come, the global financial meltdown will appear as nothing more than a footnote at the beginning of the post-Gutenbergian age.

      This article originally appeared in German in Die Zeit on April 23, 2009.

Jürgen Neffe lives in Hamburg and near Berlin. He is the author of a number of biographies. His Einstein biography has been translated into several languages and was voted Book of the Year by the Washington Post in 2007. His latest book, “Darwin. Das Abenteuer des Lebens”, was published last year.

    9. the one thing — good and bad — about this e-book boom–
      as opposed to all the similar e-book booms that came before
      — is this one has brought out the whole slew to do commentary.

      we’ve got amateurs pontificating, and people from inside the
      publishing business spouting (as if they know anything!), and
      the tech blogs mongering rumors to jack up their page-views.

      people who haven’t even thought about it much, or very long,
      are acting like they can forecast “the future of publishing”…

      for crying out loud, we even have panel discussions staffed by
      people who started a digital publishing company and folded it
      before they put out one single book. that is solid experience!

      to someone who has been in this arena for over two decades,
      like me, all of this is amusing, i can assure you, very amusing…


    10. No posting on the future of publishing is complete without a comment from Bowerbird!

    11. @Sean, I was thinking the same thing. 🙂

      @Bowerbird, what’s your point? It seems to me that a straw man is made to be picked apart, discourse is a good thing and as often as not, the right idea comes out of left field, especially during disruptive times. Apple didn’t know bubka about phones when they did iPhone, and that worked out okay. Sony “owned” Walkman segment and iPod did okay. Pixar was a frickin software company before diving into animated entertainment, and they did okay. Granted, I see you note the good and bad but what we are talking about is closer to alchemy than chemistry.

    12. This was a dense post, and dense commentary. I have several disjoint comments:

      Last year, Borders launched about a dozen “flagship” stores in the US. One of those was at Park Meadows Mall in the affluent Highlands Ranch area of Colorado. I had read the marketing for the “internet-aware” section of the store and was certain they would have an Espresso print-on-demand machine there. I was incorrect; the only print-on-demand presence was hyping the lulu.com service.

      They also had a set of workstations where you could browse and (*gasp*) download music and burn it to a CD. There were also hooks to photo and genealogy services. Nothing the store provided couldn’t already be done by internet-aware users from their home.

      I asked them what the !#$$ point was of this flagship Internet section; they told me it was there for people who had missed the Internet revolution. That led to the follow-up question: how would such people find you? No answer to that one.

      After about 30 minutes checking out that flagship store, I became convinced that Borders would not survive.


      I’m also interested in the new Apple devices and legacy books. I have a friend who published a new edition of an out-of-print title on lulu.com: “A Fuller Explanation” ( http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/a-fuller-explanation/664771 ). This is fantastic! Self-publishing allows for vanity publishing, but it also provides a way for out-of-print books to get back in print. I learned several things about self-publishing:

      1. PDF downloads of their books are very popular.

      2. The ISBN database is not universal. I had always presumed there was a centralized ISBN database, but I cannot find one. Keying in this edition’s ISBN to amazon.com does NOT match any books. I did put the ISBN of the new edition in my Amazon review of the old edition. Anyone reading that review who googles on the ISBN should find the lulu.com edition.

      3. Amazon has its own self-publishing service. If you don’t use it, you must pay a premium to get your print-on-demand books listed with Amazon. And such books wouldn’t be available to order/download onto a Kindle (although I’m guessing you could manually put the PDF file on a Kindle).

      I’ll be very interested what sort of relationship Apple can have to publishers like lulu.com. I’ve been very bothered with the proprietary moves of Amazon with e-books and hope that Apple is more supportive of independent publishers.


      I love e-devices for learning physics, etc. here are applications like Aqua Forest for the iPhone (and iPod Touch) that have great physics engines built into them.

      I’m very excited about the use of new touchpad devices for displaying both legacy books, legacy movies, and new highly-interactive multimedia.

    13. Interesting and exciting article, although none of the examples mentioned as great ways to reinvent the media include ‘the novel’. Let me comment more on the artistic rather than technological side.

      As a budding author, though not quite Shakespeare or even Fleming myself, I’ve thought about this subject for some time and it is the wild-frontier aspect of new media as a replacement to print media, that has given me cause to refrain from using new media as an outlet for my creativity, although I use it in just about every other way for connectivity, socializing, information access, news and so on. I’m a believer and an early adopter in many ways but not in sharing my artistic talent, such that it is.

      Everybody is aware of the issues of copyright infringement in the music and video industry, alongside plagiarism issues in the sampling of music, and the impact on artists, so the idea of publishing stories on-line, even if subscribed to or sold via, for example, iTunes or Amazon, leaves me a little cold. It is the first thing anybody learns to do with a computer: copy, cut and paste, well after switching it on at least!

      About the only way I could see new media replacing ‘current’ print media to the benefit of all parties involved, is if books were not downloadable but accessible only through something like a tablet via virtual media libraries, of course that require a license or subscription to access; a virtual library card! Hey, but I know there are ways around that too.

      Having said that, I am tremendously excited by the possibilities of interactive novels. Imagine not only reading a Fleming novel but also being able to play the book as a game (without having to buy a PS2!), maybe even insert your own character into the novel? Imagine the learning potential in literature and history in being able to immerse into a virtual representation of, say, Richard III, even perhaps re-editing the play to test different plot lines or scenarios and their outcomes on history? Wow!

      At the risk of sounding a bit of a curmudgeon though, there is still fantastic satisfaction in actually picking up or owning a copy of a personal favourite book, especially so if autographed by the author, so hopefully we will never see the absolute death of the printed novel, maybe just the end of the dreadful waste that goes on with unsold and unwanted copies of books. Even as toddlers I taught my three kids, who are all now avid readers of both print and electronic media, to respect books as “they are the minds and words of somebody special”. I still believe that the destruction of a book is wanton waste both in real material and in artistic terms so, in replacing printed media, respect for those minds and words must be assured.

      The way to do that and, to call the horse by its name, prevent intellectual theft is to reinvent the content and not simply digitise it. If a novel is written only for reading in a digital form then it will be copied while, from another point of view, creating it in such a limited way to enjoy would be a waste of the creative power available to new authors. But if, perhaps, it is written with unlimited interaction in mind, both within the story and externally on the Web, linking to references made in it to just about anything; locations, sounds, music, food, fashions, lexicons, wikis: in other words providing a reading experience that is simply incapable of being enjoyed by downloading and copying; then that will be the real revolution of print media.

      So, revolutionise the message not just the mode of delivery. This revolution could be more than that brought about by Gutenberg, maybe more like the revolution when man first started to sketch his thoughts on a cave wall rather than tell them around the fire…

    14. If you haven’t, you should read Alan kay’s articles on the dynabook, from the early 70s. It’s all there.

      I think the interesting change is when most people become creators and collaborators, rather than consumers. For this to happen in a way that gets to the dynamic nature of new media, the media must be programmable by all of its users. If text literacy is reading and writing, computer literacy is using and programming. Programming tools have to evolve for this to happen- Kay has lots to say about this, too.

      On another note, of course people are reading (and writing), probably more than ever, but we’re reading differently. Most of it is online, short pieces, or just in time information chunks. Are we losing the “muscles” we’ve developed for following long, complex arguments? I know I’ve lost all patience for reading long pieces that could have been written more succinctly, but maybe I’m losing all patience for long pieces generally?

    15. You could also read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age for an immensely entertaining look at where the book will likely go, standing on the shoulders of Kay.

    16. The one thing I see that some e-readers do well is allowing you to search for text. In this age of browsers and Google, searching has become second nature to us all. But books have never allowed that ability–until the e-book, and some readers allows for searching.

      The other thing that is now ubiquitous is the hypertext of the web. While books can include hyperlinks, it’s not the same as hypertext–connecting disparate bits of information (and yes, different media formats, too) together into a synthesized piece. E-books should be doing that as well.

      Your hypothesis about an iPad is interesting (and desirous), but unnecessary with the existence of iPhones and iPod Touches. A few tweaks, and we have it now.

    17. The Kindle’s and others’ use of E-ink screens, in my opinion, never will offer the user experience Apple presents with the Touch/iPhone … and not just for graphic material, but also for font selection. That said, discrete pixel density must increase to 200+ ppi at larger screen sizes to compete with ink on paper. However, that would mean a four-fold increase in file sizes which today’s internet could not handle. (Those interested in the area of reducing graphic file size may want to check out: http://www.seeandbelieve.com.)
      In the end, no matter what the media, users simply must be able to quickly decide whether or not something is worth the spending of their time. The cues they use are subtle and very often rooted in the graphic “look and feel” … the book or cd cover, for example.

    18. @FloatingBones, re your comments on the Borders experience, one thing that boggles the mind is how few companies really get the Internet. By that I mean they treat it as a “thing” to add to their business, like a flower on a jacket, as a opposed to a transformational part of their DNA. Contrast that with Apple where the iPod is indelibly, intimately tied to the Internet via iTunes; iPhone/iPod Touch via App Store, Maps, Mail, Web, iTunes, Mobile Me, etc. Re your other comments on the ISBN, formats and the like, it sure seems like the publishing industry could take a leadership role in building an ecosystem around what I call Dewey Decimal System 2.0, to catalyze a crowdsourcing of curation and librarian like functions, independent of the sway of Amazon, Apple or anyone else. Not sure they know how to do this, though.

      @Gregor, if I have learned anything in life it’s that everything is derivative of something that came before it. MY ideas are heavily influenced by the better ones of others. Case in point in beginning to write this article, I started reading the book on the advent of sound in films that provides the opening quote for this piece. It helped frame the narrative. Then, I came across (via Tim O’Reilly) The Future of Publishing, which helped codify the IT of books. I am due to read Kay, no doubt. As to whether we are losing the ability to read long form, generationally the answer seems to be YES, but then again, everything old becomes new again so not prepared to write the obit on that one completely.

      @Matthew, I love The Diamond Age and Snow Crash. Stephenson has a wonderful ability to introduce dazzling, rich concepts and make words visual.

      @V. Bush, perhaps you miss my point that I expect the iPad to be an iPhone/iPod Touch under the hood with a bigger form factor and evolved hardware/software capabilities specific to a bookish sized device. In other words, it will be (largely) backwards compatible to those devices. As a note aside, there was a whole chunk of this piece that I left out about excerpting, linking, cross-linking, appending, searching and the like.

      @Robert, I agree with your take on the limits of Kindle, and what will be interesting to see is how Amazon plays that one, inasmuch as while it is decidedly in their interest to maximize their reach of Kindle SOFTWARE, I am sure they don’t totally trust Apple not to: A) squeeze them out of the ebook player; and B) leverage their billing relationship to encroach on what Amazon considers its turf.

    19. sean said:
      > No posting on the future of publishing is complete
      > without a comment from Bowerbird!

      mark said:
      > @Sean, I was thinking the same thing. 🙂

      thanks for noticing. i would be even more ubiquitous
      were it not for all the bloggers who have banned me… :+)

      mark said:
      > @Bowerbird, what’s your point?

      thanks for asking. i’ll go write something up…


    20. Mark: I completely agree on ISBN. An ISBN2.0 implementation could lend credibility to electronic versions of books, especially if it was ubiquitous and provided obvious added value to the end user. Has anyone at ORA talked about this? Has it been discussed at earlier TOC conferences?

      Another issue: copy-protected ebook files are a No Pass. I know one small e-book publisher the sends out e-books as copy-protected PDF files. The copy-protection the publisher was using would crash Preview on the Mac; that problem was finally fixed in Snow Leopard. The workaround was to simply remove the PDF protection from the document with widely-available utilities. In short, such protection would get in the way of honest users and do nothing to keep dishonest people from stealing your stuff. DRM has been a failure on music; it is also a failure on digital documents. Publishers could avoid a heap of pain if they just accept that lesson from the music industry.

    21. Mark, in your reply to @Adam, you say:

      “A core thesis here is that Apple is all about leverage of their pre-existing unfair advantages”

      I can’t find anything to disagree with you in your very intuitive article, but I’d like to know what you mean here. What is unfair about Apple’s advantages? And who are they unfair to?

      It seems to me that Apple has got pretty much everything right in the business model. And they’ve achieved all this from a position of being at a distinct disadvantage in terms of market perception, market share and finance – pre Steve Jobs’ return in 1997.

      With the release of the first iMac on August 15, 1998, the first internet ready personal computer, Apple began changing the game, and haven’t stopped since. The only possible glitch is Apple TV.

      There’s nothing unfair about any of that. Indeed, they should teach the iPod/iTunes and iPhone/App Store business models at Harvard. They probably do.

      The ’80 gave us Gekko’s “Greed is good” and hoards lapped it up. But the reality was as hollow and as shallow as the message. The late ’90s and early 2000s gave us a lesson few have really understood yet.

      The market dominant Microsoft certainly haven’t. Despite stealing and copying everything Apple for decades, and throwing billions at their own vein predictions and late market entries, they’re actually losing money on their hardware offerings. Now they’re trying the old retail trick of opening a store next to their competition – to offer what?

      Is this really a game in which anyone has an advantage other than some epic luck [Napster, the music industry law cases, unimaginative competition], great timing and true genius in the form of Jobs and Ive?

      No, the only thing that’s unfair, in this observer’s opinion, is that Steve hasn’t yet created a ‘how to’ for all the young entrepreneurs of the world who can’t track the way his mind works, or haven’t yet picked up Leander Kahney’s great take on the most interesting, mercurial contradiction of modern times.

      Therefore, I believe Apple is all about leverage of the opportunities they’ve identified in the way we humans like to work, then brilliantly combining this knowledge with what’s possible technically, and what works, through the form of Mac OS X in great form factors. That intuition and what it’s created so far, is both to their advantage and ours. What’s unfair about that?

    22. @Ken Davey, my main comment to the focus on plagiarism and IP protection is to borrow a Tim O’Reilly axiom that “Obscurity is a greater threat to authors than piracy.”

      @Floating Bones, unfortunately, I don’t know the answers on where ISBN is headed, although your affirmation of perceived value is worth underlining and bolding. As far as DRM and the like, one mitigating factor there is that to the extent the ebook content is nested within an application, you can granularly control inputs, outputs and even device level functions, like screen caps. The real question there is whether an App Store model promulgates where the only way to pull the ebook in is as an app through a governed app store marketplace or whether it’s more PC/Mac like where the book is treated more like a file that can be imported/plays. My post on the apple tablet (#2 in related posts) burrows a bit deeper into that topic, as it gets to the nut of whether the device vision of the future looks more like an iPhone or a PC, each with its pros and cons.

      @Graham, I think that we are talking about the same thing. An unfair advantage is a GOOD thing; not something assumed to be ill-gotten or ill-used. Unfair advantages are all about leverage and defensibility. In the case of Apple, their unfair advantage is that they have deep media relationships; a 100M credit card strong billing relationship with consumers (who are trained to buy 99 cent impulse buys); they have built a media/app marketplace that integrates across the cloud, desktop and mobile/media device in iTunes/App Store; they have a development platform in iPhone SDK that is 50M devices strong, 75K apps deep (plus however many thousands of engaged developers) and are about to roll that into other form factors (most notably, the Tablet). Plus, they have a retail presence to evangelize, sell and support their offerings; a vertical integration strategy (for better user experience) when everyone else is loosely coupled and horizontal; and have settled on a core, modern underlying OS to avoid fragmentation at the bowels of the system. The irony is that they did all of this by emulating Microsoft’s OS-Apps-Dev Tools strategy at a time when Microsoft ceased innovating (and executing), and the rest of the industry (save for Google and Amazon) are doing insanely uninteresting things. I blogged on this point in: Holy Sh-t! Apple’s Halo Effect (http://bit.ly/28HYc9). Check it out.

    23. Theres no way that Apple would be dense enough to name this thing the iPad. Will their next product be the iPed, followed by the iPud, and then the iPyd? iPad would be a disastrous name. I think the only conclusion is to name it the iTablet.

    24. do you think it’s coincidence that apple renamed the ibook in 2006? I think we will soon have a real ibook on our hands.

    25. @TJ, Steve Jobs is a visionary but he’s pretty methodical in not putting the cart before the horse. After, all they have had MacBook as a name forever so the tie-in to books and tablets is a now kind of thing (past 18 mos), I think.



    26. I just have a few brief comments:

      * Every device that Apple has put out that limits the user has required hacking to ‘get it back’ to full ‘desktop functionality’. We have a paradigm, it’s the desktop. That’s why users hacked the Newton, and hack the iPhone and AppleTV. Crippled devices suck. Nintendo knows that and gets mostly out of the way. Apple does not, and the AppleTV and iPhone are examples of the other side.

      * The ‘Netbook boom’ that Apple blithely ignores is a testament to the fact that the ‘Book’ and ‘printed matter’ is changing. But I disagree that new tools are needed. A lot of reading is done in-Browser, and those browsers will end up being Google Chrome, Safari, and anything that renders HTML5. HTML5 to me is the new PDF. PDF is not bad as long as Adobe stays out of it. Oh wait, they are.

      * If you want a taste of the ‘publishing revolution’ then there are several good book readers [more like reformatters] in the iPhone AppStore: Eucalyptus, Stanza, Classics, etc. For folks coming from postage stamp screens it’s like reading a paperback. Making the screen any bigger is of course welcome, but then you’re jumping from paperback to hardcover, from iPhone to NetBook. For most folks this is diminishing returns.

      So. There we have it. Your revolution is the browser you’re reading this in. A ‘sweet spot’ between portability and power that Apple needs to figure out, and what we already have in smaller, and probably more useful form. By the time Apple figures out ‘how to monetize it’ it’s already passé just like the AppleTV.

    27. V Bush makes important points about what very soon will coming to ebooks because of the wireless connectivity of new electronic readers. Key words in books will be intelligently programmed to open doors to new worlds of information. It will no longer be the work of the imagination to supply the mental pictures. Ebooks will be enhanced with aural, visual, factual, philosophical and whimsical passages. Authors of the future will have opportunities to become more like conductors of a symphony orchestra with new tools which they will create tour de force experiences. Motion pictures will need to watch out…for the next generation of ebooks may no longer need movies to augment or visually recreate their stories.

    28. @Drunken Economist, thanks for the comments, and while I don’t disagree with anything that you are saying I would qualify by saying that there is this tendency to define spaces/segments as “here’s the model, the one right way that works,” and that is fine as generalizations go, but the truth is more complex. Apple is not about tying to be a hackable platform. There are about being an INTEGRATED, MANAGEABLE, PROGRAMMABLE platform. In fact, a key question is whether the Tablet tilts more towards the PC model (download anything from anywhere, program anything to run on it) or the iPhone model (governed platform with explicit tools, explicit apps, ONE marketplace). In other words, that Apple TV is uninspiring does not prove iPod Touch, iPhone or forthcoming Tablet to be hobbled approaches, any more than U2 having a lackluster last album does not prove that their approach to music doesn’t work. Last comment is that the “browser as OS, app platform, desktop, etc.” as a just around the corner inevitability that usurps and swallows up proprietary platforms is “inevitable,” just as it has been since the topic began in earnest back in 1994. That’s 15 years and counting.

      @Vanevar B, I am truly excited about the possibilities on this front, and would only note that (almost) everything NEW is derivative of what came before it so VB, if you are out there on some cosmic plane, you are wanted Exit Stage Left. 🙂

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    30. hi there wow you can eather read a book watch hd video or play games on a single device

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    32. I was one of the lucky few to get my hands on an iPad last week and I must say, so far so good. It’s an incredible piece of technology and I think it will change the way we read, watch movies, listen to music and more. I just want to find more apps and sites related to iPad, which seem to be hard to trace online. I see on FriskyMongoose that the ipad review index http://www.dozenipad.com is the only place ranking ipad apps and blogs. The best thing about iPad is going to be video and HTML5. Most of the video sites such as youtube and vimeo can be accessed by the iPad and I think it’ll improve the ultimate viewing experience.

    33. Good post about Apple iPad it is very useful for users

      Apple iPad, Tablet, or Notebook?