The Future of Books: Innovation in a Classic Medium

The Future of Books: Innovation in a Classic Medium

With the success of Amazon's Kindle and the ongoing Google project to digitise access to the world's books it is pretty obvious that the book is entering the digital age whether publishers like it or not.

There have been some really interesting cross-pollination developments between books and social media. Book Glutton is probably the ultimate reading group!

Potentially more disruptive is the movement amongst book-nerds with IT skills reported in Wired Magazine to create an XML mark-up language that allows readers to add their own personal notes and analysis to any text book or novel in the world (Imagine the point where Wikipedia meets the tradition of students only buying the second-hand textbooks that have best revision notes written in the margin and you've got the idea).

The next logical step is possibly the novel that is constantly updated by the author (and potentially their descendants) to keep its content fresh and relevant.  This has already happened to some extent in the printed novel: Henry James and Graham Greene both apparently updated the content of novels during reprints … and Jeffrey Archer has just extensively rewritten his blockbuster Cane & Able to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

As novels become more digital, the classic formula of "publish and forget" is likely to change.  As textbooks become more digital there will be less and less excuse for them to contain outdated material. But the process of change does introduce some interesting dilemmas: will it be possible for future generations to identify the "original" format of a classic novel, will it be possible to really "snuggle-down" and get comfortable with a digital book reader … and will a book reader ever smell and feel like a real book?

Maybe the process of innovation in the world of publishing is still a long way from complete.