From Tortoise Shells to Tweets - The Future of the Book
The earliest know form of writing is some scratchings on a tortoise shell from 6000BC, found in Northern China. From there Prichard takes us on a rapid tour of the familiar names from the history of the book - the Art of War, Guttenburg, Caxton, the Penny Dreadful. All of these developments had a framwork of publication around them that we can reflect on in the same way when we think about digital books - and Ingram Digital has an invested interest in thinking about this. Some of these examples may confuse form and function somewhat, but I think the main point is that we have been consuming 'writing' in various ways for a long time.
So, what is the definition of 'book' in today's age? Is the move from print to digital any different than the move from scroll to bound text? Prichard highlights some trends around the digital move:
1. Shifting Market.
This describes the move from physical stores to online sales. This reminds me of a recent (personal) blog post I wrote about the recent closure of libraries. This is being supported by the growing use of appropriate devices. The predications for 2011 are that there will be 14.7 million e-readers 44.6 million tablets in use.
Prichard also predicts that academic libraries will be 80% e-only by 2020 in US (seems quite slow to me!).
2. Generational Shift.
Schools are using a mixture of modern devices like the i-pad with traditional books that have been in use in the classroom for years. There is a significant change in language - text speak is effecting teenagers learning across the board.
3. Enhanced eBooks.
Moving beyond merely trying to deliver the print version of a book in digital format. The lonely planet's new travel guides are an interesting example of this - I'd note they have to be, as they fight for their market against user-generated content on places like TripAdvisor. The books container is changing, the book itself must change to keep pace with this.
Prichard poses some ideas of where we might go with this:
- Could we use biometrics to change the ending of a book based on your mood?
- Could your car remember where you were in a book and start reading to you when you start a journey again?
- Could locations used in a book change based on where you physically are?
- Could books interact with each other more, e.g. viewing other people's underlinings on Kindle?
Prichard closes by saying that print on demand has to be the future of publishing - it reinvigorates the supply chain, its green, and its user appropriate. He does not see print as vanishing - and reflects on the failure of the 'paperless office' as an example of why printed books will not vanished. There was quite a bit of disagreement on Twitter about this...but I wonder if we think about students printing articles / photocopying book chapters as part of the 'print' process. We might not BUY print, but print consumption will always be a personal choice.
Naturally, the audience is not going to get a publisher get away scot-free with giving a presentation without identifying some of the ways in which publishers are NOT helping the shift to digital. The poor business models for ebooks were highlighted, with prices often being higher than print making them inaccessible. The JISC eBook Observatory project has carried out some interesting work around this concept.
Following a question from Peter Burnhill, Prichard notes that the solution will not come from one part of the industry - we should put the pavements where the students chose to walk.