The Future of Publishing

Print is dead. How can we make money from the Internet? [Everyone runs off screaming.]

Since, ooh, the early 2000s I’ve sat in various editorial meeting rooms of assorted major U.S. and European publishers and heard some iteration or variation of those statements. In 2010, publishing was characterized by inertia and fear. Budgets and lists were slashed while jobs were lost as the industry struggled to make it through lean times foisted on the rest of us by avaricious types over in Bankerland. Publishers sat around waiting for something to happen, for something to give, for the new thing to announce itself and drag all those scared, bored editorial bottoms on an inexorable slide into a well-moneyed future where people can make money out of the web.

Well, World-of-Publishing, it ain’t gonna happen! Not the way you think, anyway. There’s been too much evaluation and not enough imagination. Here are some predictions that may get a laugh in decades to come. Join me as I catch a few glimpses of the future of publishing…

Near future:

Someone creates an app-style magazine for iPad, Kindle and all those other reading devices. N.B.—not an app per se, but a format that fits modern lifestyles, a format that fits around the rush of the everyday in a convenient yet engaging way. The cutting edge is always an old sword redesigned, reimagined.

The mag is called SUBWAY and is designed to take the average length of a subway ride to read. You can download a new edition daily for a penny. It consists of editorial, short stories, comics, short features, just like any current magazine, plus a load of hyperlinks. The hyperlinks will take you to relevant material such as author pages, further episodes of stories and comics, anything the editorial team feel may be of interest to their interesting 21st century readers. There’s a bit of advertising too, but the thing is based on a free subscription for a few months, by which time your readers are hooked—and they’ll pay that penny a day to stay subscribed.

Partially because of the success of SUBWAY, the short story as a medium in and of itself will return in force as people’s attention spans become ever-dwindling. Authors who like to write in serialized form will thrive. Readers will learn to love the cliffhanger and will look forward to the next installment of their favorite authors’ works. Print publishing will fight for the right to publish the most popular story collections of both text and comics—and just like Dickens, the printed versions will be slightly different to the original versions—reworked, pruned and spruced up.

In time, SUBWAY will also offer a print-on-demand feature where you can have your own compendium of favorite strips or stories bound and delivered to your doorstep.  As technology improves, any affiliate of SUBWAY will be able to use this service. Self-publishing creators will make use of it to create their own books with short print runs, which become highly collectable…

There will be two kinds of comics, as there are today: print and online. While the online version offers both traditional words and balloons as well as a new form that (often unsuccessfully) combines comics with animation, print becomes the preserve of creators with an artier intent, more nuanced and offbeat than its online counterpart. Mini-comics and self-publishing will continue to thrive…

Middle Future:

As the internet and TV finally blends into one, the news and magazine industry also merges. Little ‘bots trawl the web sorting out the bits of news you’re interested in—new bleeps from writers, updates from thinkers, bursts from newsers and journos, new installments and artweets from storytellers, image and music makers, anything from content merchants that you’ve indicated you like.

These separate items are collected into one single daily feed, a personal visual magazine edited by your own edbot. Edbots take a short while to get to know you, but are easy to train and they’re programmed to spot changing tastes. You can ask them to employ predictive behavior so that they find and suggest new items that might be to your taste, or you can keep them on a tighter leash so that they don’t get annoying. An edbot that has been trained over a number of years becomes a cherished item—most people wouldn’t know what their personal taste is without referring to their edbot.

Advertisers have to work hard to entice edbots to include their infobursts in an individual’s daily feed, but those who manage to program their ad-droids in original and provocative ways do often get included. Ad men who program the ad-droids correctly are highly paid. Many ad campaigns are almost indistinguishable from blockbuster video events, the equivalent of a must-see big movie today—we still pay to see good, immersive visual storytelling. SUBWAY still exists, as a provider for much of this material, although it’s now been sold, bought and imitated many times.

Meanwhile, out in the actual physical world, the book doesn’t die. Books become highly prized and collectible items, enjoyed almost as much as loved objet d’art as useable objects. Turns out we’re still tactile creatures and some of us still like how books feel, how the turn of a page doesn’t require a power source other than the deft and automatic help of a human hand. Incidentally, online edbots are often characterized by little avatars that look like human hands with faces.

Projects that make it into print are considered worthy keepsakes. Certain print-to-order concerns do limited runs if a title is very popular and collectors lovingly favor first editions of these. If a book makes it into print via the rarer avenue of an old-fashioned publishing house, it’s a big deal and, over time, these become even more valuable.

Deeper future:

The iMe is invented, a device that sheathes the human body in a field of imagery and infotext—it looks something like moving tattoos all over your skin. This isn’t so much Lydia the Tattooed Lady or Bradbury’s Illustrated Man rather than personal appearance-altering technology. You can use it to look like a walking animated neon sign and have a free flowing and ever-changing countenance or you can just use it to watch the latest anicomics on your wrist. Many people use it to constantly update their physical appearance and flash up their likes / dislikes moods—nobody actually talks anymore.

Indeed, there is worry that with these deep interfaces, people are losing the ability to physically speak as they mostly communicate in holographic pictograms (also known as “commux”). The iMe and similar devices throw up a new iteration of cartoonist, whose work is displayed on their own body. In what remains one of the last few bastions of physical public art, you have to go to public spaces to read these, in what are called masterspaces. Some masterspacers combine their time onstage with performance pieces—dance, living sculpture, gymnastics—so you have to be really quick on the hoof to read anything displayed on their bodies.

The creatively minded amongst us think up amusing sex games to be had with the iMe—the possibilities are endless. The younger generation likes to use it to become totally invisible and interact with the world only via their online personae. Online clones are popular, backup versions of the self that are descended from edbot technology.

More and more people live their lives through these translation interfaces, sealed off from reality in entertainment bubbles of their own creation. There is a movement against this lifestyle of course, as some turn back to nature and simpler times, but this doesn’t stop Infogeddon, a day when the internet bleeds out all over the physical world and the two become as one. On that day, life becomes immutable from publishing and we all become one big connected thought exercise, a molecular computer comprised of and dedicated to safely playing out all the notions humanity’s ever had. This entity names itself iEarth. iEarth is too complex an entity for me to detail here and anyway, my vision of the future is fading fast…

…but you heard it all here first.

Nick Abadzis writes and draws comics and also works as an editorial consultant.


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