Fri
Aug 20 2010 11:17am

A Fondness for Antiques: The Future of Books According to Science Fiction

In the past few years, media pundits and tech experts have been abuzz with variations on the question: “what is the future of the book?” Luckily, science fiction has been around a whole lot longer than Amazon, Apple, and Google, and as such, might be able to teach us a thing or two about the future of the printed word.

Books tend to be depicted in a few different ways in science fiction. Sometimes the medium by which people “read” is altered by technology. Other times, books are preserved in their exact form as today, either as antiques or for another reason. Sometimes, books don’t exist at all or are in the process of being destroyed. And other times, books barely even resemble themselves.

Back in the summer of 2000, beautiful women would walk past the little shopping mall bookstore where I worked and into a neighboring cosmetics emphorium. But I devised a way of getting them into the bookstore. I imagined a line of facial creams that were infused with the plots of classic novels. After a little rub and scrub customers would instantly absorb the works of Dickens, Melville, and Bronte directly through their pores. They would be “reading” books in seconds! Not much came of these plans, but I’m hoping some day, when I become a mad scientist, I’ll follow through.

If the world falls into a dystopia without any books, my books-as-facial -creams might be just the ticket. But as it stands, dystopias seem to hold little hope for the future of books. Stories in which books are banned, information is lost, and/or humanity has to rediscover itself through the miracle of the printed word are awesome standards of the genre for very good reasons. We all know the book burning of Fahrenheit 451, and the Ray Bradbury story “The Exiles” in which authors like Poe, Dickens, Bierce and Shakespeare are all living on Mars and being kept alive by the simple fact that a few un-burnt copies of their books might still exist. But countless stories like this (Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz chief among them) tend to focus on books as a moralistic symbols. These are brilliant novels and stories, but as magic crystal balls for what books and publishing might actually look like in tomorrow land, they don’t help us. At least not optimistically.

In the Foundation novels, Asimov gives us the ultimate government-funded publishing project: The Encyclopedia Galactica. While I’m not confident that this venture produced a great amount of new poetry or a space-age James Joyce, it is still a hopeful appraisal of the need for a society to have books in some form or another. Interestingly, throughout much of Asimov, books appear as their regular paper selves, alongside “futuristic” mediums. Along with Heinlein, Asimov employed all sorts of “data-spools” or “record tapes” that seemed to display information through some kind of viewing screen or other apparatus. But like Asimov’s robots, these data-spools or record tapes lacked any sort of apparent software. Asimov may have had the Encyclopedia Galactica, but the ability (or desire) to have one device containing thousands of books in its memory, or to stream from a database of countless volumes seems to be relatively absent. Characters in these kinds of golden era SF novels have regular books too, frequently without explanation.

Another example of a mixed-universe with in which paper books exist along with electronic counterparts occurs in the Doctor Who episode “Silence in the Library.” It’s the 51st century, and there’s an entire planet of books, known only as The Library. At the planet’s core is a large index, which serves as a global card catalogue. In the opening scenes, The Doctor explains that all the books in the library are “new editions” and printed for the specific purpose of existing in the library, despite the fact there are high-tech alternatives. In this setting, the explanation for a future in which printed books survive is clear: nostalgia. Unlike the archive planetoid Memory Alpha from Star Trek, The Library doesn’t really have a practical purpose; it simply exists because as The Doctor says, “people never really stopped loving books.”

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock famously gives Kirk A Tale of Two Cities as a birthday gift. “I know of your fondness for antiques,” Spock says, heavily implying printed books are like big collector’s items in the 23rd century. Prior to this, the 60s Trek crew primarily accessed literature on multi-colored Heinlein-esque record tapes. It is from one of these, that Gary Mitchell quotes “Nightingale Woman,” a poem written by an alien, implying poetry is being read and “published” in some form or another in the future and on various planets. This idea of a highly literate future is bolstered by the fact that everyone from Kirk to Doctor Crusher seems to know their Shakespeare.

In the 24th century versions of Star Trek, the iPad was invented! In numerous episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, we see our heroes reading novels or plays or poems (though usually non-fiction plot-relevant data) from their PADDs (Personal Access Display Device). Unlike the iPad, PADDs seem to contain a limited amount of information, sometimes just one book, script, or technical manual. Characters are occasionally in possession of numerous PADDs, all seemingly containing different sets of information. Like in Doctor Who, we know they have the technology to integrate all the information to stream through a single portable device, and yet they don’t. I interpret this is not simple nostalgia but rather, the Starfleet people’s homage to books and a subtle rejection of the do-everything gizmo.

Speaking of an highly useful book/gizmo, we arrive at the most famous fictionally depicted book in all of science fiction; the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, from the Douglas Adams novel of the same name. Published by Megadodo Publications, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not of human origin. Resembling a thin “flexible lap computer” the guide is not limitless, but actually another one of these specific-purpose gizmos. And yet the guide is instructive for its emphasis on collectivism. The authorship is unclear, and the book is constantly being updated. While the first novel depicts the guide as a cheeky resource manual, it does develop its own A.I. by the fifth book, Mostly Harmless. When this happens, the guide turns out to be both devious and helpful throughout the story. And while I don’t think a bird-robot is going to pop out of my laptop screen, e-readers getting too smart might spell trouble.

And for those us who think the Kindle is the sign of the apocalypse, then contemporary Battlestar Galactica agrees. Admiral Adama, President Roslin and company all read from printed books, because their technology literally wiped out the majority of the human race. In BSG, owning books and having limited amounts of data on non-networked, not streaming computers isn’t a result of nostalgia, but instead a real way of staying alive. The message here is clear: if we stick to printed books, then our Nooks and Kindles will never be given the opportunity to eat us up!

BSG drew heavily on cyberpunk literature for its concepts, and cyberpunk itself offers some of the most iconic science fiction imagery of data exchange. While not as chic as my facial cream, the name of the game in cyberpunk is instantaneous data transfer. These aren’t e-books per se, but if poetry, literature, or cooking memoirs exist in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, this is how they are being read: a wire going directly into the brain. However, Vonda N. McIntyre’s novel Starfarers does make assertions of art being created in a kind of shared cyberpunk conciseness. Here, characters have the ability to store entire real-life experiences in a sort of community mental harddrive, which allows them to access and modify these experiences. This creates a fluid kind of real-life “art.” While this might have more to do with reality TV than it does with novels as we know them, it does question the limits not only of what apparatus houses a novel, but what art of the future might actually be like.

Sometimes Star Trek forgets about how much it loves real books and has nothing to do with them. When that happens, the future of publishing is the “holo-novel.” Other than Data playing as Sherlock Holmes, or Picard as the fictional-fictional hard boiled Dixon Hill, these can hardly be called novels; they’re basically interactive TV shows. It’s as if the word “novel” has lost its meaning for these people, in the same way we say “dial” or ‘hang-up” though we do literally neither anymore.

The only time the holo-novel feel like a future iteration of publishing or literary expression is in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”. In this one, the holographic Doctor writes what is essentially a Million Little Pieces version of his autobiography, which puts the “reader” of the holo-novel into the plot as the main character. The episode also raises all sorts of questions about an artificial life-form’s rights as an author, and what the 24th century considers—legally—to be the definition of an artist. To me, the holographic Doctor’s holo-memoir actually is the future of a creative non-fiction, and the only time the holo-novel concept is elevated beyond that of a complicated video game.

So if we ignore all the big dystopias, then according to science fiction, it seems the future of books is looking pretty good. But there may be some real world, modern day science that explains this rosy outlook. In John Freeman’s The Tyranny of E-mail, he quotes from another book called The Future of the Past, by Andrew Stille. Stille describes the interesting phenomenon of modern archival methods having extremely limited shelf lives. Essentially, papers from the Renaissance or Revolutionary War may be seriously faded, but we can still read them. Conversely, the estimated life of a digital storage tape or a hard drive is probably around ten years. Naturally, if cyberspace continues to function, we could keep all of our books stored there forever. But there will always need to be some physical, real world place that the information exists. And if all of those devices fail, and we do fall into some sort of dystopia, then books will still be the most effective way of preserving information.

Speaking to the American Booksellers Association in 1989, Isaac Asimov asked his audience to imagine a device that "Can go anywhere, and is totally portable. Something that can be started and stopped at will along its data stream, allowing the user to access the information in an effective, easy manner.” And if you’re thinking about record tapes, or holo-novels, or wires directly to the brain, then think again. Asimov reminded the audience that this ideal data storage device already exists.

“We have this device”, he said, “It’s called the book.”

Good call, Mr. Asimov, but I’m still heading back to my lab to work on my face cream books. Though, I do wonder how non-organic life-forms will read them? Maybe I’ll figure that out next time...


Ryan Britt lives in Brooklyn were he is reading constantly by either direct download into his noggin or by good old fashion reflected light. His work has appeared on Nerve.com, Clarkesworld, and elsewhere.

29 comments
Paul Howard
1. DrakBibliophile
As far as Star Trek goes, you're forgetting "Court Martial" where a "kooky" lawyer defends Kirk.

The Lawyer is "kooky" because he loves real books.
Frank Nagy
2. fjnagy
Several things about eBooks (replacing printed books) worries me:

1. Cost, why do eBooks cost so much (as compared to books that have
to be printed, shipped, shelved, etc.)

2. Digitals Rights Management -or- you buy it but we control it. Which
follows to pay-per-view...

3. And the newest worry, I just saw today. You buy an eBook and it
comes with advertisements (like PBS where advertising is gradually
growing to commercial broadcast TV quantities).
heteromeles
3. heteromeles
Here's a wonderful opinion on books, from Nassim Taleb (author of The Black Swan):

"I have just glanced at the desk in my business, nonliterary of?ce (I separate the functional from the aesthetic). A laptop computer is propped up on a book, as I like to have some incline. The book is a French biography of the ?ery Lou Andreas Salomé (Nietzsche’s and Freud’s friend) that I can very safely say I will never read; it was selected for its optimal thickness for the task. This makes me re?ect on the foolishness of thinking that books are there to be read and could be replaced by electronic ?les. Think of the spate of functional redundancies provided by books. You cannot impress your neighbors with electronic ?les. You cannot prop up your ego with electronic ?les. Objects seem to have invisible but significant auxiliary functions that we are not aware of consciously, but that allow them to thrive—and on occasion, as with decorator books, the auxiliary function becomes the principal one."

Source: http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/robustness.pdf
heteromeles
4. Aeria_lynn
Please remember that at the time Asimov was writing his early science fiction, computers as such didn't exist, and really weren't even being whispered about much. His robots were the inspiration for such things in many ways. So no, no software for him. However, when he resumed writing science fiction, decades after the work that made him a Grandmaster, he inserted computers into the Foundation series with much trepedation, terrified that his audience would call him on it and complain loudly. Nary a whisper, much to his relief. (Summarized from his account in _I, Asimov_.)

E.E. "Doc" Smith and many other pre-computer age writers have the same technological blip. It's especially noticable in Smith's _Lensmen_ series when talking about pilots who are basically piloting by levers and switches with both feet and hands. Always brought the image of an organ player.

So, yes, books for the Golden Age of SF were standard. Without the transistor (which wasn't really worked with much until the late 1940's) leading the electronic revolution, there's no reason to imagine that books would be supplanted by anything else.
Ryan Britt
5. ryancbritt
Drak! I forgot about "Court Martial"! I love "Court Martial"! Good call.
heteromeles
6. beket
@3 LOL. I am currently using all 7 books of the Chronicles of Narnia as a doorstop. (It's a duplicate set and will eventually be given to charity).

I always assumed books would still exist in the future for "comfort" reasons; the light of an electronic screen bothers my eyes, and the problem is getting worse as I get older.
Ryan Britt
7. ryancbritt
Aeria- You are so right. I should have included the transition of pre-computer Asimov to post-computer Asimov. But thankfully, you saved me by posting this comment! :-)

Also it's fascinating to know that he was worried about the reaction from his readers. I gotta get I", Asimov". I bet it's awesome.
heteromeles
8. dmg
Cost, why do eBooks cost so much (as compared to books that have to be printed, shipped, shelved, etc.)

Careful, fjnagy, you might foment a rebellion here! :-) I sure hope executives from Tor reply. Until they do, my comments...

The publishing model, as structured today, works okay but not especially well. Publishers moan about this fact all the time: the diminished and diminishing total sales, the necessity to publish extruded sameness just to keep the shark swimming, pulped returns equal to cash (which kept Borders alive earlier this year, but barely), etc.

Once a mighty model, now increasingly ineffectual; despite all their carps, the publishers turn a blind eye and deaf ear to change. In Internet patois, they operate a walled garden. If publishers do not change (update their business model), change will come to them.

Never forget the tousle between Jeff Bezos (founder/CEO of Amazon) and MacMillan (iirc); Jeff's perceptions, though correct, included wrong-headed tactics that led to his stepping back. And Steve Jobs, he of Apple, brings his ferocious hot-headedness to bear on the publishing industry.

And still the publishers resist. They think they will do just fine without Apple's or Amazon's distribution networks... The thing is a business can control the conduit or deliver the content, but the corpses of those companies who thought they could control both litters the pages of history.

The silly thing is the publishers force their own demise upon themselves: by crushing the life of the mid-list authors via killing their livelihoods, they force these writers to adapt the Ani DiFranco model. (Ani was not the first, but certainly the best, at ushering in the changes that continue to reverberate through the RIAA 20 years on.)

Can you feel the winds of change? I do.
David Dyer-Bennet
9. dd-b
I, Asimov isn't bad; but the full two-volume memoirs are awesome. Get and read those!

A fascinating scheme that didn't come to fruition, predating the web and doing many of the useful things the web does better, was Project Xanadu, invented by computer visionary Ted Nelson. It was a networked hypertext scheme that was fully commercial rather than fully free. The theory was that the cost of fetching a copy from storage was cheaper than the cost of owning a copy, so people would voluntarily pay per view. I never felt he really adequately dealt with why things wouldn't disappear on you; but he at least asserted they wouldn't, so we're not ideological enemies :-) . So you'd publish your book just by putting it in Xanadu.
Justin Levitt
10. TyranAmiros
In the Star Wars Extended Universe, "books" are datacards you put into your datapad which you then can read on the screen. I think they do something similar in the Honor Harrington books (I seem to remember a scene where Honor is looking up in her book reader's glossary English measurements from a Dickens novel).

Personally, I was glad to have an ebook reader last summer when I was traveling. I had just gotten Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker, which--though not heavy--was pretty bulky in hardcover.
heteromeles
11. Michael S. Schiffer
The thing that strikes me with Asimov is that all the ingredients for a an ebook reader or other small data device are there, just scattered around:

He has the display tech: while a lot of his stories feature printing teletype interfaces, the Prime Radiant is a small cube that can project the entire Seldon Plan on the surrounding walls (with no shadows), and can do zoom and search functions. Gaal Dornick's psychohistorical pocket calculator (not called that, of course) has a display that, but for color (red on gray), sounds a lot like an older LCD or LED, or current eInk.

He has the miniaturization: a positronic brain is able to store quite a bit of information (robots generally recall anything that they see or hear, that being one of the thing that leads to problems) and they can scan and reproduce text ("Galley Slave", though the output involves the robot using a typewriter; but Arkady Darrell has an automatic voice-transcribing device that even produces pretty handwriting). That doesn't even count the microAC in "The Last Question.

He has a global communications network. Multivac is generally one big computer, but in most of the stories featuring it it can be accessed from terminals all over the world. The bitrate may be low, but it's clearly sufficient for pushing text files around, since that's most of what we see it doing. And while that was wired, he had robots coordinating with one another wirelessly ("Catch that Rabbit", with a robot presiding over subordinate devices as if they were his "fingers".)

All Asimov lacked was the concept to put those things together, and he could have had a portable ereader or research device or word processor that looked a lot like what we use now. It would have been vastly more sophisticated in some ways (Even Robbie understood English better than current voice control schemes), vastly less so in others (not a lot of evidence for sophisticated graphics, and searches are generally a lot slower than Google's).

Of course, that's the sort of thing that's much, much easier to see in retrospect.
David Dyer-Bennet
12. dd-b
Niven & Pournelle did remarkably well in The Mote in God's Eye in 1974, it seems to me. Those "pocket computers" which wirelessly talked (with help from buildings and vehicles boosting their signals) to central computers and datastores, so that people could call up information with a few strokes of their stylus.

We're getting fairly close to that, only 36 years later.
heteromeles
13. slanagat
fjnagy @ 2, dmg @ 8:

Comparing ebook and hardcopy prices often leads the reader to focus on the physicality of the book as a cost driver - materials costs, shipping, brick and mortar storage of stock, &c. But the per-unit cost of that stuff in a decent sized print run isn't the lion's share of the production cost.

The front end costs of preparing the book for printing are common to ebooks and hard copy. Editors and proofreaders, artists, typesetters, all the publicity and marketing staff, and many others that I'm forgetting but I'm sure PNH would be happy to recount, all have their jobs to do and be paid for. I understand authors have a powerful need to eat sometime this month as well.
David Dyer-Bennet
14. dd-b
slanagat@13: Bookstores generally receive a 40% discount, more if it's a huge chain. Very roughly half of a mass-market paperback print run get stripped and pulped. Shipping the copies costs something. Warehouse space costs something. Warehouse staff costs something.

I certainly don't complain about paying editorial costs. While no profession is perfect, editors overall certainly earn their pay (all the kinds; acquisition, development, copy).

Sadly, few of the books I care about are printed in decent sized print runs (and far too many come out in trade paperback, that worst of all possible formats).

And, frankly, I'd happily skip the artist for most titles. I never buy by cover, but sometimes am ashamed to show a cover in public. (Sorry, artists.)

No typesetting cost for an ebook.

I ignore promotional costs -- promotion, if done sanely, pays for itself, it's not a cost (by which I mean that, if it doesn't mostly pay for itself, you're wasting your money and should stop).

The hardcover / paperback trick is mostly a way to skim the cream from the market -- make people in a hurry pay for their impatience. That can be done just by changing pricing over time. It may well be that people are willing to pay enough more to make it worth doing. I find it personally annoying, but this is one of those basic business marketplace things; the money has to come from somewhere, and ignoring that people will pay for earlier access is bad business. I'd do it myself sometimes (I've bought hardcovers for that reason).

I can see paying $10 for a major new release, with half going to the author. By the time it's a year old, I think $5 is about the max it could be worth, with maybe only $1 or $2 going to the author. (Note that I'm increasing the author's take at all stages of the process.) I suspect that prices for classics still in copyright will go down considerably lower, perhaps to $1.

These are prices based solely on my own "feel" for what is "fair", though I've applied my own notions of "sanity checking" to them (i.e. I have extracted them from an orifice). These prices apply only to ordinary text fiction; categories like non-fiction, textbooks, art books, and so forth we're much further from having a viable ebook route for them, and I know even less about what's sustainable.

(I should probably apologize to two friends who own bookstores, and more who work in bookstores. Yes, I'm writing you out of the distribution chain. I'm sorry, but I don't think you have a viable place any more. I don't control this, maybe the world won't go the way I think it will. There should be, and probably will be, a place for your expertise on figuring which books people will like.)

I suspect new publishing models, and new methods of finding books to read, will arise -- all kinds of collaborative filtering, and people making some kind of career out of a position that's sort-of "editorial" and sort of "reviewer" where they read things and rate them in various ways, and publish their opinions for money. Whether these new models will push out traditional publishing in the long run (say 20 years) I wouldn't want to bet either direction.

Clearly the skills of all three kinds of editors, and reviewers, will continue to be important, and I hope they will be able to make a living, even somewhat better livings than they do now. And the same for authors.

You know what actually worries me most? Whether we'll be able to maintain effective access to old titles. Right now the used market does that fairly well, though some things get expensive. I'm not at all sure if there'll be a viable used market in ebooks (how do you verify legality?); and if there isn't, then we have to count on publishers keeping the files available from their servers in the long run.
heteromeles
15. dmg
dd-b@14,

Excellent post! I like that you also offer suggestions. Very well done indeed. In fact, I hope to meet you someday, and have a good long talk about... everything.

slanagat@13,

I argued a tangent, and failed to make clear that I did. Bottom line: You and I agree that everyone in the food chain should be paid.

That said, there exists an unsettling equilibrium between content (author) and package (everything the publisher contributes) and distribution. Unless you are a top line author (King, Grisham, Rowling, etc) your percentage of a book's cover price is so small as to be almost non-existent.

Why is that? Because the publishers practice a modern and complex version of the fair trade law (+ the MSRP). Finally abolished in the mid-70's, its (fair trade laws) purpose was to provide a minimum price, an inviolate floor, for merchandise. The few intrepid sellers who attempted to break that oligopoly via selling to customers based on price soon felt the hot breath of the law on their necks. Until, oddly, Robert Haft came along. It was Haft who started Crown Books in ~1977, and changed the retailing end of the publishers' business model/plan. (That story, with all its highs and lows, is told better elsewhere.)

Do you wonder how it is that all books from all publishers share similar price points? For example, the $25 price point (like the $2000 computer), which one Tor editor once mused aloud to be a ceiling. Do you wonder why publishers still demand a ~30% markup for the Canadian editions of its books -- even though the Canadian currency is at ~parity with the US$? The publishers continued use of this pricing practice insults Canadians, and thus is incredibly short-sighted: the publishers seek short term profits at the cost of long term customer relationships. And publishers consider this a viable business model?

dd-b states the situation very well. A $25 book at retail is really only ~$15 to the publisher. That is a hell of a markup... only for the big box retailers to discount the price back down near its wholesale price to win favor with its customers. This practice prices out the independent bookstores that cannot buy in similar volume... but who support the artists and authors, and publishers, in so many non-remunerated ways.

And so it goes.
heteromeles
16. Aeria_Lynn
Asimov is quite the character. All three of his autobiographies are worth reading, tbh. But he'll never be the researcher's dream subject; he's already said everything about himself! T'was quite annoying trying to do a paper on the man.

I agree that Asimov implied most of the technology that would end up being e-readers and such. But he didn't use the terminology we'd use today because the technology hadn't given rise to the language.

The other thing that makes Asimov unique is that he stopped writing fiction for decades, then picked right back up where he left off. That makes him an ideal study for the great technological divide.
heteromeles
17. firstgentrekkie
It's been decades since I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, and I've been meaning to re-read it. Thanks for the reminder.

Dystopias without books--are there no books because it is a dystopia, or is it a dystopia because there are no books? For me it's the latter. My favorite science fiction vignette about books was Rod Serling's "Time Enough At Last." Books were Henry Bemis's life. Without the ability to read them, all hope was lost.
Michael Burke
18. Ludon
In my opinion, books as books will be around for a long time. The book is a mature technology like the wheel and the lever. While there may still be refinements in this technology (binding methods and materials used) the book will still be a book.

Here's why - Suppose I were to say that I had a copy of a forgotten TV pilot episode for a series based on Asimov's I,Robot and that I'd award that RCA SelectaVision disc to the first person who answered a specified question. How many people would be interested? Of those, how may would be able to view the information on that disc? Would a copy on an old Beta tape be better? Would an old Beta tape still be playable? Now. If I were to say that I have a bound copy of the shooting script for that pilot how many would be interested? How many would be able to read it?

As an artist, I have at hand a few computer graphics programs as well as modern tools such as the Pilot Precise V5 Pen and Liquitex Acrylic Paints but quite often I use the oldest art technology when I draw - a charred stick, now known as vine charcoal. Matured technologies become so because they are useful and that usefulness endures. After we develop the hover-sled simple wheeled carts will remain - even if they are only kept on hand as a back-up for when the power fails.

And, I agree that there is something about the feel of a book. Like riding in a horde drawn cart on a crisp autumn evening. One of life's simple pleasures.
Joanne Center
19. thegloop
As a librarian I clearly see the value of books, not only from the standpoint as one who enjoys the physical act of reading them, but also, significantly, as a medium of the poor. Many libraries offer digital versions of books or audio books, which are great for those who can afford the devices on which to play them. However, for those who lack access to the latest digital devices, a book is a universal medium that can be accessed by anyone. For people who still desire ownership of materials,in my mind books really are the only thing. Used book stores both in physical form and online, offer individuals the chance to own physical copies of materials at prices that are considerably discounted. Additionally, I find that children, though they do like playing games on the computer, find it significantly more difficult to engage with full novels/ stories in digital format. The, shall we say, messiness of small children, is another thing that might preclude mass hoards of 4 year olds carrying around Kindles in their lunch boxes to read Dr. Seuss.
heteromeles
20. SummerStorms
Dd-b, in the last paragraph of comment #14, touches upon what is a major concern for me: will there be a conduit for used material if/when virtually all publishing moves to electronic format exclusively? You see, many of the authors I really enjoy are authors whose work I purchased on a whim at places like Half-Price books, a yard sale or a thrift store. When I'm browsing around looking for one thing, or perhaps nothing at all in particular, and I happen to see something that looks interesting, I'm far more inclined to give it a try if it's only going to cost me a dollar or two. I mean, if I spend that dollar and then don't really like the story, I'm only out a dollar. But if I spend that dollar and then find I really like that author's work, I'm far more likely to go out and buy more of his/her work, including purchases of brand-new books, possibly even in hardcover. So for that initial dollar, which didn't even go to the author, I have become a fan who then can be counted on to buy more of that author's work.

Now imagine that I have an e-reader, and dead-tree books are no longer being published. If I want something to read, I have to go and find what I want, and buy the electronic file. If I'm utilizing some sort of a search engine to find a particular author or title, I'm not going to have that same experience of finding something else on a nearby shelf that grabs my attention. So there's one opportunity gone. Also, if I have to pay full price for everything I want to read, then I will be far less likely to take a chance on an author I'm not sure I will enjoy; instead I will tend to stick to the tried-and-true, as - I suspect - will most people. What does this do to the chances for anyone but the most popular authors to actually get read? And how narrow will the range of my, or anyone else's, reading become?
heteromeles
21. welovetea
@ #3 "impress your neighbors" - LOL!!!

This is a timely post. At the Willamette Writers' Conference a couple weeks ago we were all reeling from the news that in the prior week Amazon reported selling more e-books than physical books for the first time. INSANITY. I'm a Fahrenheit 451 girl myself. My books are MY BOOKS. Enough said.
heteromeles
22. faithhopetricks
'Back in the summer of 2000, beautiful women would walk past the little shopping mall bookstore where I worked and into a neighboring comesmetics emphorium. But I devised a way of getting them into the bookstore. I imagined a line of facial creams that were infused with the plots of classic novels.'

Ha. Ha. Ha.

This woman (not beautiful nor interested in cosmetics, who was reading Dickens at eight) invites you or a Tor.com editor to use a spell-checker before posting an article. Sadly there is no sexism-checker, apparently.

//goes back to not reading Tor.com
heteromeles
23. Lilla Smee
Just a fact-check: William Gibson didn't write "Necromancer" - it was Neuromancer.
David Dyer-Bennet
24. dd-b
SummerStorms@20: if you're using say Amazon to search for books, the edges of the page are spattered with suggestions for other books you might like. They're related differently -- not nearby alphabetically or in LoC code, but rather bought by people who bought what you're looking at, or otherwise perhaps matching your tastes. If anything I'd think you're MORE likely to find something interesting there. Besides, the books that matter that I found by serendipity are a very small number; most important books come to me via recommendations from friends, and I'll still get plenty of those. So I'm not TOO worried about the loss of what you find from random browsing.

I have some hopes that the publisher sees no reason to ever take an ebook "out of print", since the cost of keeping it available is so low (and in fact the cost of taking it off the server may be higher than the cost of leaving it for a year). But that's hope, not confident belief, and certainly not demonstrated behavior.
David Dyer-Bennet
25. dd-b
dmg@15: thanks! I'm easy to find from my profile info here, feel free to email.
Ryan Britt
26. ryancbritt
Lilla- I trusted my spell checker with Necromancer/Neuromancer. THANK YOU.


Faithhopetricks-

I have no idea what happened with cosmetics. Thanks. I'm a fool. Jeeze, how embarrassing.

As for the other stuff, I was kind of making fun of myself and my views back in those days, and didn't mean to come across sexist. Sorry if it offended.
Ronald Hobbs
27. dustrider
A change in media really comes into its own by offering up clear and distinct benefits while keeping the advantages of the previous media.

I bought a new kindle for the simple reason that I'm going on a 3 week holiday, and it's much more efficient to take the kindle than all of the books I want to read.

The kindle, while still not being 100% like a book, is pretty close, I'd say about 90%.

Reading is becoming a more social activity, with things like rereads etc. being so popular on tor.com being evidence to this, having that available _while_ reading is a great benefit.

Instant delivery and automatic updates and error correction is another great benefit.

The whole discussion about pricing models is a complete red herring. In my opinion publishers will change their business model much more fundamentally in the next 10 years, to seriously leverage the new advantages, and the ones we don't know of yet.

I can seriously imagine a publisher like tor or a syndicate of them to offer a subscription model, similar to services like spotify:
- where you pay $x per month, and get all the books on their catalog, maybe with a delay on new releases.
- pay $x+y and get the new releases on the day,
- for an extra few $ you can get the community content and moderated discussions.

All in all something like that is a much more stable model for publishers, so it gives them much more control over where and how to allocate their resources.

The trick is how to allocate the dough I guess, I read a lot more books published by tor and orbit than I do penguin for example.

That said, I think the interactive story is still something that will come along and open up new avenues for entertainment, but without replacing novels, think theater and cinema, sure theater isn't as common as it used to be, but it's reached a point where fans and producers are generally happy with it.
james loyd
28. gaijin
"It’s as if the word 'novel' has lost its meaning for these people..."

It has certainly changed meaning for us so why not for them? It had the following meaning even before it was applied to a book-length narrative:

"2 :original or striking especially in conception or style (a novel scheme to collect money)" -Merriam Webster
Joseph Blaidd
30. SteelBlaidd
I would say the most unique method of handle ing the e book phenominon is the route taken by Baen.

They have a library of free ebooks(usualy the first or second in a series), and do sell a monthly subscription to every thing comeing out that month at around 15 bucks.

http://www.baen.com/library/
http://www.webscription.net/

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