The Future of the Book

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The Future of the Book

Mod's diagram of analog vs. digital publishing system.

Thanks to gigaom.com for turning me on to a great 2011 article on the future of the book by Craig Mod, Post Artifact Books and Publishing.

The article covers much ground in discussing the book as pre-artifact (writing and publishing), artifact (the book itself) and post-artifact (the life of a book after being published). Community-influenced writing and digital publishing is clearly blurring the lines between these traditional stages, as well as between author and reader.

Most interesting to me is his focus on the opportunities digital technology creates for books, as opposed to how books can be digitized. He writes,

When we think about digital’s effect on storytelling, we tend to grasp for the lowest hanging imaginative fruits. The common cliche is that digital will ‘bring stories to life.’ Words will move. Pictures become movies. Narratives will be choose-your-own-adventure. While digital does make all of this possible, these are the changes of least radical importance brought about by digitization of text. These are the answers to the question, “How do we change books to make them digital?” The essence of digital’s effect on publishing requires a subtle shift towards the query: “How does digital change books?”

He cites the encyclopedia as an example. Digitizing the encyclopedia results in a Microsoft Encarta CD. Asking how digital technology can change the encyclopedia gives us Wikipedia, a crowdsourced living document that is constantly being rewritten, yet through its system of verification has built a large degree of trust and widespread adoption.

As the digital publishing systems evolve we will have more opportunities to share our highlights, marginalia and reactions to books in real time with large audiences. A book will be in a constant state of being rewritten by its readers.

Like many, I love the book as a physical object and romanticize the idea of an author struggling in isolation to produce a unique work of genius. But I also share Mod’s excitement about being part of a publishing revolution that will bring writers and readers together to create iterative texts that would have never before been possible.

A Kindle version of this article is available for $2.99. Or you can just read it on Mod’s site for free.