The Future of Books
This month my guest blogger is Kathryn Cook, Foresight technophile. If you want more frequent droplets of wisdom about the future, why not sign up on our website www.3s4.org.uk to get our e-bulletin, or follow us on Twitter at @NCVOForesight?
As an avid reader, a report on ‘the future of books’ was bound to catch my eye. As I’m sure you can guess, it talks about the emergence of ebooks and their implications for the older relative: the hardcopy book.
It’s a fascinating read, which covers six drivers:
- Digitization of books (see our ease of publishing online driver)
- Emergence of wireless ebook readers
- Spread of wireless broadband (also have a look at our ubiquitous connectivity driver)
- Generational shift - (explore this further with our attitudes to different generations driver)
- Rise of user-generated content
- Environmental concerns – this is still a somewhat superficial one, as it is not yet known for sure if ebooks are actually more environmentally friendly than paper ones (think of the batteries needed to power e-readers for example).
Flying along the real-world journey
Although the Kindle is heralded in this report as "the first truly viable alternative to print in more than five centuries", what gets me really excited is where the technology may take this in the future. Currently ebooks are represented as black and white text on a page: literally looking at a page with none of the experience of holding a real book and turning pages. But in future, it’s likely that e-readers will become ever more sophisticated. They will be capable of showing e-books that have media embedded in them. You might be able to have a much more interactive experience with your book. For an example of what’s possible – have a look at googlelittrips, where a high school English teacher in California named Jerome Burg has combined e-books with interactive learning features and the satellite imagery of Google Earth, to create Google Lit Trips - virtual “road trips” that let students follow the journeys in works such as the Kite Runner.
Is the author the owner?
One of the interesting outcomes of this digitisation of books is how it affects ideas of ownership and authorship. Currently many major publishing players use an e-publishing standard which does not include Digital Rights Management (DRM restricts users from freely sharing downloaded content). This has led to others developing a platform that does include DRM.
So which path to go down? Limiting what people can share online is arguably against the whole ethos of web 2.0. For example, The Times' paywall has had the unintended consequence of stopping its articles being tweeted, mentioned again here by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
However, authors still want to reap rewards from their work. Is publishing about to join the music industry in the twilight world of interminable lawsuits?
The emergence of co-produced work may well be the answer to this. See A Million Penguins.
What does this mean for civil society organisations?
So what might all this mean for you? There’s great potential for small organisations to engage with epublishing. Currently this trend is moving out of the early adopters phase and so is too ‘new’ for small charities to engage with effectively. But it should be figured into future plans. As ebook readership grows and spreads into the sector, an ebook could be an effective way to reach a wider readership and build your organisational profile.
Developments in e-readers will also see more potential for people to share their reading with others and interact with your publications. You may want to think about how you would handle this. It’s a debate that is currently playing out in many organisations in relation to social media – how can we (should we?) control the message?
It will take a while for technology prices to fall: if you decide you want to use e-readers it might be worth looking to see if there are others who are also keen. Could you buy the technology collaboratively? Get a bulk deal? Work together to share the expertise needed to exploit it?
I wanted to finish by drawing out the implications for print publications. However, as the future of books report says, we are perhaps seeing the ‘the end of finishing’. With the advent of e-readers, books, like blogs, are mvoing into the world of 'permanent Beta', where technology allows for endless updates.
So instead I’ll leave you with this great phrase from the report - "manual random-access scanning" (ie flicking through a traditional hard copy book - with your hands)!
Like this? Read more
Nick Wilson Young, NCVO Foresight Manager, discusses trends and forces in the wider world that could sink your organisation or speed it to success.