Notes on The Future of the Book

Despite the rather pretentious title to this blog entry, this will not be a long and studied essay (though, well, I will eventually write a paper along these lines).

I’ve been invited to present a paper at The Future of the Book: Changing the Landscape of Philippine Book Publishing. I will be talking at the discussion on “Essentials of digital books from the consumers’ POV” and I copy the abstract verbatim: “Voracious readers will present what the consumer wants in terms of point of sale experience, actual content, and post-sale interaction.”

I’ve been sitting around and trying to think about what it is I will eventually demand of digital books, as we move towards a point where it is within our reach to replace our shelves and libraries (atoms) into files and digital readers (working in bits). And rather than lauding the end of the book as an object (art object many would say) I believe that this transition demands that we look at what we love so much about books. Not only what they contain, and their packaging, but what we love about the experience of buying books.

More than other content industries that have taken massive hits due to digital media, I believe that the book has more opportunities in its physical form. Yes we can relate experiences to film (indeed the theater-going experience is something that is beautiful and extremely important in my life, yet most people don’t seem to appreciate the difference between watching in a theater and watching on their TVs and DVD players at home) and to other media, but I feel that experiences with books have a more physical feel to them. There’s the holding, the smelling of pages, that, well, we can’t do with say DVDs. Just the flipping through, looking at random lines.

Honestly, as I’ve been imagining the possible future where I might do less buying of physical books (indeed I don’t think I will ever stop buying books, even though my closet space is almost gone and my apartment is getting smaller as I keep buying books) and I will just go online and search for stuff to read, I feel that I will be losing two great experiences. The first is smelling a book’s pages. You get that plastic off, and you let your nose just dive in and take the new-book-smell in. There’s nothing quite like it.

I’m not sure if I would be treated like Seinfeld’s Kramer when he was pitching a perfume that smelled like the ocean, but what about an air-freshener that smelled like new books? How many bibliophiles would that attract? Or, and I’m thinking it’s absurd, but what about Scratch n’ Sniff strips to go along with purchases of digital books? I know, sounds crazy. but hey, i’m going to be giving a twenty minute talk and people will be compelled to put up with my crazy ideas.

The other great experience for me was finding some book i’d never heard of, from an author i’d never heard of, and flipping through it just because i liked the cover. and then buying it and really enjoying it. If I’m online, wikis and googling and reviews are just too easy to access for me to take a chance on it. and there’s very little chance of the stumbling along without any prior knowledge of the work.

I’ll also be considering costs. For example, how much do I spend on books in a month? Would this spending be equal to, say buying a reader? And would subscription systems, similar to Netflix, be a viable option for us? Should we offer digital books for free, applying a Freemium model? That actually sounds workable. And what can we do with people like me who don’t have credit cards, and are too scared to get them because of all the horror stories?

Right, so good bit of brainstorming here. Not to try and write the real paper, give those conference attendees their money’s worth.


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