The Future Of Books And Publishing In The Digital Age

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Many media channels are feeling the pinch. Some are blaming the economy while others are blaming the Internet. Some think it’s a combination of the two. Books, great literature and the publishing industry are not going to disappear, but they are going to change radically in the coming months and years. It’s time we start having candid conversations about what the future of books, writing, publishing, and the book business will be in the digital age.

Taking a cue from the BarCamp and unconference movement, BookCamp London happened last month as a place for the publishing industry to look at the technology that is changing the industry and the role that books will play "as a delivery mechanism for stories, information and entertainment." Like all user-generated conferences, the participants and self-selected guests of BookCamp London chose the agenda for the day and formed groups to discuss and imagine the future of the book. Hugh McGuire from LibriVox, The Book Oven, The Huffington Post and Media Hacks attended the unconference (you can read his review here: Bookcamp – The Books Are All Right) and was very inspired by the conversation. After some discussions, we have decided to hold a similar event on this side of the pond.

Enter: BookCamp Toronto.

The BookCamp Toronto wiki went live today. It is happening on June 6th, 2009 at MaRS Discovery District, so feel free to head over to the wiki, sign up, add some ideas for the sessions you would like to participate in (or lead), and if you have any hints at companies that might be interested in sponsoring the event, please do let us know. The spirit of this event will be very similar to the early BarCamp events: they will be very lo-fi. We’re looking for people to lead discussions, not fancy PowerPoint presentations. The idea is to have real conversations, use some whiteboards, splash around some post-it notes and see if we can help the publishing industry not face the same challenges that the music industry is currently grinding through.

Why now?

The past few weeks have seen some dramatic changes in the publishing industry. Just yesterday, it was announced that the annual Book Expo Canada and the Toronto Book Fair had both been cancelled (more info here: Toronto Star – Two Major Book Events Cancelled). At the same time, major publisher, Harper Collins, announced the launch of their first video book for What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine).

"Jarvis’ video book goes on sale Tuesday and retails for $9.99. The 23-minute video has Jarvis speaking into a single camera with a white background. Instead of reading directly from the book, which was published last month by the company’s Collins Business imprint, Jarvis runs through the basic concepts in the book, such as how Google has been able to compete so successfully on the web and what can be learned from its practices. If HarperCollins can make a go of v-books, perhaps Google will be the one to pick up a few tips for generating revenue from YouTube," stated the article, Watched Any Good Books Lately? HarperCollins Tries ‘Video Books’ from The Washington Post earlier today.

And if that was not enough, in December of last year, Harper Collins also announced that it would be making nearly one hundred literary classics available via a new cartridge for the Nintendo DS that would turn the gaming device into an e-book reader (more on that here: Wired – Nintendo DS: The Next Popular Book Reader?). Then there’s also news that the new Amazon Kindle will be launched next week. In the news item, New Kindle a Billion-Dollar Baby?, from InternetNews they also say: "The e-commerce giant is predicted to rake in $1.2 billion in 2010 from sales related to its Kindle e-reader, according to a new research report, that also states the etailer sold 500,000 units in 2008." Industry insiders are already calling the new Kindle the "iPod of the Book World."

If you’re at all interested in the future of publishing, you may want to take part in BookCamp Toronto.

Where do you think the publishing industry needs to focus their attention? What do you think is the future of the book in the digital age?


  1. I remain of the belief that books and digital media can co-exist because they have the ability to serve different markets. For example, I don’t think anyone can rationalize the need for large volume encyclopedias when one has access to the same information, and in many cases more up to date information, via the internet. Conversely, there are subjects or material that would be best served in printed format for its ease of use (I’ve tried e-books and I’ve always hated the fact that most readers don’t allow you to bookmark where you left off easily. Then again, how can you beat the simplicity of sticking a piece of paper in a book?).
    The downturn in book sales has less to do with competition from media sources and more to do with high book prices ($40 bucks for a hardcover?! Ouch! I still remember when it cost half that much) and of course, the current recession.
    Let’s also not forget the huge price difference between buying books in Canada vs US even when our dollar started to gain on its counterpart. I think if a comparison was done of how many copies of a particular title were bought by Canadian retailers vs. how many were shipped to Canada from US retailers, I think we’d see where one of the big leaks are.
    Of course, as you can see, I’m a big book lover. I love cradling a hardcover book in my hand and reading the words of the writer. Humans are in nature tactile creatures. And that alone ensures that there’s a future for printed books.

  2. I suspect we’re not going to see the book go extinct. For one thing, a book has greater portability—no risk of its battery going dead on you. For another, there’s just something great about cracking open a new book.
    As a book designer and layout artist, I come by my enthusiasm for the printed book naturally. But vested interest or not, I don’t–for instance–see public schools replacing textbooks with Kindles.

  3. Fantastic idea to hold a brainstorming session on this. This mentality affects not only the book publishing business, but all print media, including magazines, newspapers and even B2B corporate literature production. I hope I can join the meeting as I think there will be many good ideas and strong opinions from both sides of the argument. Regardless if you are a book lover or not, the fact remains that other media outlets and delivery methods affect book sales. This cannot be ignored and shoved under the rug. Print media is seeing very huge changes in the way they must adapt, grow, merge, innovate. Their are fighting to stay alive and if we can offer any insight to how they can become more competitive, I am all for it. After all, we are all connected in the “Media Space.”

  4. Let’s not forget how books affect everything from how we learn and how we communicate. It’s a personal, social and educational object.
    How will schools and educational facilities adopt and change as books become more digital? What about libraries?
    Also, how we read a book is very different from how we read online which is dramatically different from how we read on a mobile device.
    It’s going to be a great day of discovery and discussion.

  5. Quick note: I updated this Blog post with the date and location.
    It’s happening June 6th, 2009 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
    I hope you’ll join us and head over to the wiki and register.

  6. great topic for conversation, Mitch.
    The web became (ahem) mainstream when the devices and user experience began to mature. The Kindle rocks some people’s world, reading on an iPhone is alright for RSS updates but maybe not everyone’s way of reading a book – but these are not show-stoppers – they just help the development of the technology.
    it’s a case of fail fast and learn (which IS had when you are trying to run a business!).
    Tom Peters says that customer is always, always first – the problem is that that the vast majority of the *customer* doesn’t yet know how it wants to read books. We probably know how we don’t want to do it tho!
    Shame I can’t make it over from Ecosse for the event. *sigh*. will follow the wiki tho!
    thanks again, Mitch

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