The Future of Books

What is a “book,” anyway? And how did we arrive at that definition?

Actor and author B.J. Novak addresses this in his children’s book, appropriately titled, “The Book With No Pictures”. His performance in this video demonstrates something all book lovers know: a “book” is simply the delivery device. What is actually a “book” is the brew between whatever material shared and the reader’s mind…

“Books” then, provide an experience that is entirely unique to the person experiencing it. (Certainly, there must exist one or more theory books on this very topic.) The book/mind interaction occurs regardless of the book’s purpose. Is the purpose of the book to educate? Entertain? Yep, yep. The very unique synthesis between you and a book is what makes books powerful. Even, sometimes, magical.

We are not in the magic business here, but we are impressed by the technical wizardry that keeps expanding the notion of what a “book” is and what it can do.

Book Industry Expanding and Shifting

It’s no secret that the book business is radically shifting; we see it every time we work with major publishers and independent authors alike. It is an exciting time. We are constantly asking ourselves, “what is a book becoming?”

Matt MacInnis of Inkling shared some excellent insights in a recent interview with Om Malik. Among the first was this:

I think about the book as a hardware device, just like I think about the iPad as a hardware device. It’s a much more mature technology than what we’re working with in the digital era. It’s a hardware device that by itself is useless unless you put some software into it. And the software you put into a book is the content.

When we map this transition, we don’t think about the book as mapping to e-books. We think about the book as coming unbound and being put into all these different use cases.

Later, he talks about how digital “books” can be automatically updated with revisions…while still retaining the potential for long-term permanence we associate with paper books. MacInnis calls this a new, emerging art medium.

Examples of “Books” as Emerging Medium

A first example would be the services offered by MacInnis’s company Inkling. Using HTML 5 and the cloud, Inkling provides publishing options that “push updates, corrections, and enhancements” to all reader devices automatically. These “books” are training manuals deployed in the field and self-publishing options, too. The “Habitat” product, for example, allows for collaborative development in real time.

Think about that: a book shape-shifting in real time based on the needs and interactions of the readers.

Similarly, what about the growth of audio books? At first blush this seems not to be so innovative, until you combine an audio book with creative commons licensing, allowing for fresh remix and response from readers.

We’re witnessing first hand how “books” are enjoyed by people with differing “capability arrays.” That’s the term we like to use to describe natural talents bestowed to people with differing capabilities. For example, someone born blind has a greater sensitivity toward audio. The blind enjoy books by touch and by ear, and they are embracing technologies to consume and create books like never before.

That’s the untapped potential we’re working to unleash in the Staunton Media Lab. Each week we produce a video show and podcast thanks to the talents of our lab’s first audio editor, Coley. You can tune into our live broadcast every Wednesday via our Twitter feed (@orobora) or our YouNow channel.


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