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Skipping to the Next Chapter: The Future of the Book (Deborah Poh)

In a society consumed by the notion of constant progress and the desire to obtain the latest technologies, the print book is considered frequently to be a static entity that is outdated as soon as it is published. With the steady proliferation of digital texts online and the recent launching of electronic book subscription services such as “Kindle Unlimited,” the future of the book is a popular topic of discussion by anxious bibliophiles and starry-eyed technophiles alike. Will print books be squashed into oblivion by the convenience and accessibility of electronic books? Will publishing houses continue to survive with the advent of self-publishing and internet giants such as Apple and Amazon? These questions and their kin are difficult to answer accurately without a psychic grasp of the future. However, by examining current trends in the publishing industry with an open mind, it is possible to make some predictions about where the book will fit into our future.

In the space of a decade, I believe that the reading audience will have evolved into a fully-engaged “community” that will interact with the publishing industry to an unprecedented extent. I also will propose that publishing houses will have merged into profitable partnerships with their previous arch-nemeses, the internet corporations that are presently a sizeable thorn in the side of almost every major publishing house. These two changes will completely alter the landscape of the book industry in terms of how books will be created, produced, distributed, and read. The following paper will seek to briefly discuss and explore possibilities for each aforementioned aspect of the book, from its inception to the manner in which it will be consumed by future communities.

Contrary to some opinions, writing will continue to exist as a profession within the next decade; however, this occupation will have evolved into an entirely different creature. With the constant advancements in technologies geared towards creating faster connections between individuals of an online community, our current notions of authorship will have blurred and overlapped boundaries with our present ideas of readership. More specifically, there will be greater instances of different individuals working together to shape the process of writing texts and narratives. These individuals may include both those who consider themselves talented in writing and those who prefer to read and critique such texts. In other words, the writing process will be much more open to public scrutiny than in previous generations; the once passive readership will be able to engage and direct the manner in which a book is written through advanced versions of today’s online forums and other digital means of communication with writers.

This open-ended structure of writing already is evident in the burgeoning success of self-published books in today’s society. While many such texts still remain in digital obscurity, there have been conspicuous exceptions to the rule. Most notably, Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel that originated as Twilight fan-fiction on various websites, exploded into global popularity in 2011 following its publication as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback by The Writers Coffee Shop (Wikipedia). Following its initial word-of-mouth success, the rights to the book were eventually bought by Random House, an exceedingly well-established publishing house. Fifty Shades of Grey would go on to become the highest selling book in British history, a feat quite unprecedented by books of similar mediocre beginnings (John Barber, Globe and Mail, 2012). Therefore, as non-traditional means of publishing texts have become viable paths to success, so too will non-traditional methods of creating texts become the norm in future decades.

Within the next decade, writing will require great flexibility from authors as they strive to adjust to changing models of publishing and distribution of texts. In his post “Are books dead?” James Bradley remarks that many mainstream writers will find it difficult to continue working in their present day capacity; however, those who are most willing to “adapt and experiment will succeed” (City of Tongues, August 2011). As well, esoteric literature such as poems and short stories may fade into the background while non-traditional forms of fiction, created by a “hugely energetic community of writers and artists,” become predominantly popular (James Bradley, City of Tongues, August 2011). In this manner, the future of writing and books becomes a mysterious yet exciting prospect as the blurring of traditional boundaries begins to produce new, cutting-edge forms of storytelling that incorporate the latest technologies and methods of digital communication.

In relation to the physical format of the book within a decade or so, I believe that print books will indeed remain in existence and usage. However, the amount of print books produced, distributed, and sold will have greatly diminished in favour of electronic texts and their like. Even today, the unparalleled accessibility and convenience of e-books are making electronic formats more commonly purchased than print versions. While print books will be still treasured by a certain portion of society, they will be bought more for nostalgia’s sake and prestige than out of actual necessity. For instance, coffee table books, which tend to highlight fashion icons and other lighthearted topics, are bought more for their suitability within one’s home décor scheme rather than for actual literary interest.

From personal experience, I know that I buy hardcover books for their appearance or genre, rather than casual reading. Specifically, I only buy the print book version if it holds sentimental value or if it is a text that can be referenced frequently, such as a manual for photography. If I wish to merely finish a book quickly at home or while travelling, buying the electronic form on my Kobo E-Reader is usually my first choice. As a result, within a decade one can surmise that other formats, primarily versions that exist digitally in some form or another, will become the normal method with which one peruses new topics of interest and entertainment.

The distribution of books is already a great matter of contention between traditional publishers and non-traditional distributors in today’s society. Within ten years, however, these conflicts will be most likely resolved into a mutually profitable relationship for both parties. While publishing houses will strive to maintain standards of writing, design, and marketing, the internet corporations will continually search for the latest and best methods with which to distribute their texts to willing audiences. Similar to the way in which music artists currently use concerts and franchising to profit from a conspicuous online presence, future authors will use either online and community events, such as conventions, as a new source of royalties. For instance, video and computer game designers will create holographic or virtual reality experiences in which die-hard fans can tangibly encounter their favourite scenes, characters, and discover previously undisclosed information. This fusion of storytelling and video gaming already is evident in popular games such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda; game-makers have recognized that “story-based” games hold a great appeal for their customers and have even hired writers to add to the complexity of game plotlines (Steven Petite, Huffington Post, 2014). As an outcome, future books will evolve into different formats and seep into other mediums, such as video games. Additionally, audiences will become active players in creating, reading, and disseminating narrative content within their communities.

The reading audience is becoming increasingly important in deciding the successes and failures of the publishing industry. In “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages,” Alan C. Kay gives us valuable insight as to how we should approach the future of the book—we can predict forthcoming patterns of usage by looking toward the book’s future readers. In other words, Kay suggested that we look to how children of today’s society are processing, learning, and utilizing information in order to determine what format would best suit their sensibilities in the future.Within the flourishing digital culture of today, children are immersed in technology from an early age and therefore are more adept at using the latest gadgets than their predecessors. I personally have seen toddlers, who are still unable to speak discernibly, easily navigate the touch technology of iPhones and iPads. These future generations most likely will not miss the feel, smell, or sentimentalism attached to the print book, as would many of earlier generations. Rather, there is a high likelihood that they will prefer the clean touch of touch screens and holographic devices, both of which will become increasingly commonplace in the near future. Consequently, one can determine potential ways in which reading might change in upcoming decades by examining how future generations will best process information and entertain themselves.

The future of the book has created an immense amount of anxiety for the publishing industry as many self-proclaimed authorities spurt out dire predictions of the book’s extinction. However, such prophesies seem to ignore the fact that future books will be merely created in different methods than in the past; online communities in upcoming decades might use new approaches to creating content that do not yet exist. The print book, barring any natural disaster that targets paper products, will continue to exist. However, its role in society will have shifted from a commonplace source of information and entertainment to a status symbol denoting prestige, wealth, and education. Instead of print books being a routine part of daily life, new electronic devices will be used to contain texts in a manner that best suits the lifestyle and work habits of the new generation. Publishing houses will have to forge partnerships with internet giants such as Amazon and Apple in order to survive; these new companies will continue to offer some traditional services while also using new technologies to engage readers to an unprecedented extent. While there is a tendency to jump to rash conclusions regarding the future of the book, it is unlikely that the book as we know it, both print and digital, will completely disappear in the near future. Rather, I prefer to have the confidence that by the time any major developments occur in this area, we will have the tools and knowledge with which to handle any drastic changes.

Works Cited

Barber, John. “What Fifty Shades of Grey taught us about publishing.” Globe and Mail. 11 December 2012. Web.

Bradley, James. “Are books dead?” City of Tongues. 25 August 2011. Web.

“Fifty Shades of Grey.”Wikipedia. Last modified on 18 September 2014. Web.

Kay, Alan. C. “A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages.” Matthias Müller-Prove. August 1972. Web.

Petite, Steven. “The Rise of Storytelling in Video Games.” Huffington Post. 4 January 2014. Web.

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