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Another deceptively simple question

I'm in Frankfurt, at the Book Fair, on the first day of the Sprint Beyond the Book event, wherein a team from ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others (myself included) try to produce a book on the future of the book in a little under 72 hours.

And I have a question for you. First, the preamble ...

Books are a tool for conveying information — normally (but not exclusively) textual and pictorial information — from one person's head to another's. They're not the only such tool, and they evolved iteratively from earlier forms. Clay or wax tablets, and bundles of leaves or tree bark, gave way to parchment scrolls and then, via Johannes Gutenberg, to bundles of "signatures" — big sheets of paper printed with text and pictures, folded and stitched and then cut along three edges — bound between leather or cloth or board covers. We've been refining the design and manufacture of these physical objects for hundreds of years.

Most recently, with the development of high capacity data storage media and low power/high resolution display panels, we've come up with machines that let us read and display text and graphics without needing the bulky, heavy lumps of bound paper. A 500 page hardback novel weighs roughly 650 grams; it contains up to 1Mb of textual data. This was a remarkably compact form of information storage back in the day, but in the past couple of decades it has come to seem laughably restrictive. My iPad weighs the same as that hardback, but has roughly 64,000 times its data storage capacity — potentially enough to store an entire library. Moreover, digital data is searchable and (in principle) mechanically indexable. (Don't mention this to a professional indexer, though, unless you enjoy being mocked; indexing is a highly skilled speciality, and one that is in danger of being destroyed by the reductionist assumptions of the software developers who build "just good enough" indexing tools into word processors.) Digression aside, what does it mean for the function of a book, the transfer of information from an author's mind into a reader's, when the book becomes an easily transferable chunk of data not bound to a physical medium?

We talk of publishing books, but there are many kinds of business that call themselves "publishing". The trade fiction industry is structured and operates along radically different lines from peer-reviewed scientific journals, academic textbooks, dictionaries, map-makers, and graphic novels. All of these industries have the core function in common — transferring textual or graphical ideas between minds — and all of them traditionally ran on ink on paper printing, but the source material, editorial processes, marketing and distribution channels are so radically different as to be nearly unrecognizable. An innovation in production that disrupts and revolutionizes one publishing industry sector may be irrelevant, inapplicable, or laughable to another. They may even surface in an unrecognizable form: the academic paper public pre-print service provided by bears an odd resemblance to some of the urban fantasy/media fanfic aggregator websites if you squint at it in the right light — the workflow of submitting an astrophysics paper to is eerily similar to that for submitting a Harry Potter fanfic to

We think of authors, especially authors of fiction, as being creative monoliths who have total control over the cultural artifact they produce — the mechanism for transferring ideas from Head A into Head B — but that's not actually the case. Some authors write using an amanuensis or secretary. Some authors collaborate. Their manuscripts are then edited — both substantially, by an editor who reviews the structure and content and suggests changes or even re-writes sections, and at the copy level, by a copy editor who enforces syntactic and grammatical consistency and corrects spelling errors. The author may not be responsible for the final title of their work; they are almost certainly not responsible for the cover or other marketing adjuncts. Authors work as part of a complex ecosystem, which exists to generate inputs compatible with the production pipeline that results in physical books.

Again, we need to ask: how does the shift to books-as-data affect the processes by which books are created? Are some specialities or workflows no longer needed? Are other, new techniques required? The transition from hot lead typesetting in the 1980s rendered human typesetters' skills obsolete but opened up new roles in layout and design for the more forward-looking professionals in that sector (which, while heavily automated by DTP applications, nevertheless raised standards of book production quality across the board after the initial excesses of the "I've got a font so I'm going to use it!" school subsided). What is the equivalent of the hot metal typesetter to DTP transition, and what new skills and specialities is it going to generate?

I've been writing on this subject for most of an hour, and I've barely begun to scratch the surface. Two decades ago, in 1993, I thought I pretty much understood what a book was; now, in 2013, I'm far less certain, because the book has acquired a strange, shimmering, protean nature. Books are changing. And I'm here to take a look at how and why, and what they might look like a couple of decades hence.

What do you think books will look like in 2033? (Feel free to bear in mind that there are books that are not science fiction novels out there: infants' picture books and accountancy text books and religious tracts and graphic novels all fall within the scope of this question ...)



Serialized novels. Textbooks in chunks.
Impulse purchase size and price.


Explain your reasoning, please.

(I could assert that the future of books in 2033 will be brightly coloured sporks, but without a solid chain of reasoning behind such an assertion you might well question its validity ...)


It's a tough question. I see books developing in some ways like both music and software are -- in a sense those are also publishing industries.

Both have seen a rise in the success of independent artists/developers. They've also moved away from physical media even faster than books.

I think the trends in those areas will seep into book publishing as well. Right now we're seeing lower quality in self published ebooks, which was common in both music and software at first when people could easily release their own products. Now the quality of both has improved quite a bit.

Books are similar to software in that to get a good result you need a good amount of test/editing. In both cases you need people to use the work in progress to find mistakes and bugs. In software now there are a lot of tools that help developers take short cuts -- you can licence a game engine from another developer, for example, and really cut down how much code you have to write and test. Perhaps in the future we'll see automatic editing packages that do a decent job of helping an author structure a book and edit it beyond spell check.

One big difference between books and music and software is that in most cases there is a final, unchanging product in print publishing (aside from later editions which may correct errors). With software we actually expect the end product to change, with updates to fix problems or expand features, and an eventual new version to replace the old one. And in music we're used to there being multiple versions of something. The studio version, the live version, and acoustic version, remixes, covers.

I think with books we could see something similar as well. Maybe we'll see authors remixing eachother's work, or doing there own take on it. John Scalzi's "Fuzzy Nation" is an example. Fan fiction may become a legitimate art form, with people able to sell their fan fiction and profit off of it.

The other trend that I think is most likely to catch on is a subscription model. I get most of my music via subscription now (Spotify), I haven't bought a song or album in several years. Software has moved in that direction too, starting with corporate products -- SAS is a big thing. But it is moving to the consumer level as well, with Adobe's recent move to Creative Cloud. And Microsoft is doing it with Office 365. In publishing we've had that with journals and periodicals even longer. And most libraries have electronic journal database subscriptions. We'll move to that with books as well in the near future. A flat monthly fee and you get access to a large catalog of books. Scribd is trying that out soon, and I'm sure Amazon, Google, and Apple will follow as soon as they can.

By 2033 actual physical books will probably only be produced as prestige/decorative pieces. Leatherbound editions of classics or best sellers for people who like to have them on a shelf in their house. Then the question will be what do libraries do with all of their physical materials. Someone is going to realize it costs a lot of money to house and maintain hundreds of thousands or millions of volumes and decide to do some budget cutting.


I can see serialized novels, though people would need to have some confidence that the novel would actually be completed. We might see a rise in novellas, which together would make up one of the doorstoppers of recent times.

The "Wool" series by Hugh Howey is a good example -- 8 short stories/novellas that were sold separately and then combined in a single omnibus edition. Not exactly serialized in the old sense, but close.


One big difference between books and music and software is that in most cases there is a final, unchanging product in print publishing (aside from later editions which may correct errors). With software we actually expect the end product to change ... I think with books we could see something similar as well.

Not as long as we have the International Standard Book Number as a unique identifier -- which is unique per binding and editorial edition. Dan Gilmor just asked, "what if an ebook was hosted on Github? Would it need a new ISBN every time someone fixed a bug or typo?" And he's quite right: there's a limited supply of ISBNs (10^13 now, after the switch from ISBN-10 to ISBN-13) and the issuers charge a fee for issuing a new one.

(ISBNs can be seen as a species of atom-space URN; the question of how to handle this problem is a key aspect of discoverability and search.)


Serial ebook novels: already happening (like this one, by Seanan Mcguire). Yes, it's an old-style serial, with updates issued via ebook download on a regular basis. (It finishes next week, at which point the completed novel will be on sale for $1 more.)


Two significant possible uses of digital books are non-static media (video, sound) and connectivity. For text books this is obviously useful. A text book in 2033 could come with a version history rather than an edition number as small parts are updated to keep current. Interactive sections could allow for discussions on particular issues, universities might even be able to link their forums in with specific chapters of the books so that on one page there is text, video, audio and boxed in somewhere is a list of current forum posts on related topics.

Taking this to fiction I could see the same being applied for entertainment purposes, especially with franchises that span multiple forms of media. Whether or not this latter would be a good thing or a cheap way of pushing merch remains to be seen.


By 2033 I believe physical books will still exist and be a popular option - the tactile experience of reading is something that a lot of people are wired to enjoy, and that's not going to change in younger generations until we're rearing infants on iPads, which raises all sorts of developmental disorder questions I'm doing my best to ignore every time my infant son glances at a TV.

That said, Amazon's move to bundle physical and eBooks will have caught fire and become a fairly strong norm in the mass market. Comic books as well, Marvel already routinely includes a free eCopy of its books with each physical issue. Textbooks will hang on like grim death to physical only sales, but electronic upstarts may well be on the way to displacing physical textbooks in 20 years so it may be a moot point.

eFormats will hopefully become more open as DRM fails to have any positive impact on the bottom line and obsolescence wipes out a slew of DRM'd libraries and causes widespread consumer anger - I'm looking at the Nook here, though I'm not sure of its DRM situation. At the same time people will be innovating with eBooks and we'll start seeing formatting and illustration features on par with physical text, perhaps even embedded video coming into the picture.

(Oh, and there's every possibility as adaptations continue to dominate the box office that eBooks will start being bundled with films.)

As eFormats become more complex we'll also see them evolve to take advantage of Google Glass and its successors. Text streaming in the corner of your eye may become the new normal for a man reading a book on a stroll.

Finally, some bright spark may be on the verge of direct information upload to the human brain in 20 years, which would play merry Hob with the non-fiction market, but that's probably a different discussion to have.


This is an aside, but the transition to ebooks has produced some amusing side effects. It seems that most publishers automatically produce an ebook version of all their normal books. This usually makes sense, but it sometimes produces absurdities like this book:

The hardcover version is a board book for infants that has fun stuff for them to touch, like fake animal fur. The ebook version just has pictures of the same, which doesn't really fulfill the book's raison d'être.


I'm not sure that the ISBN will stick around, at least in its current form. Which will be confusing for libraries. Perhaps academic monographs will continue to use it.

Amazon issues its own ASIN for products, it uses the ISBN if there is one, but there doesn't have to me.


? Serialsed novels ?
A return to mid 19th-C versions, in other words, or even earlier.
Dickens was famous for issuing his novels as serials, with cliffhanger episodes, to keep people going.
Nothing new to see here, folks.
Oh & each individual portion was a lot cheaper than a full-sized novel, issued in a magazine - & I suspect that constraint no longer applies.

One thing I have noticed, is that, now *everybody" has a home computer, then everybody can write up, design & lay out their own pages.
This has, spectacularly NOT IMPROVED the general standard of layout & design. IMNSHO, there has been a slight improvement in most cases, with great improvement in a tiny number. However, it seems to be a bi-modal distribution, with a depressingly large number of pages with unreadable fonts / colours & ghastly layouts.
Graphic design is a true art & a lot of people need to read Tufte.
The trick is: "THINK SIMPLE" ... whereas it seems to be a basic human trait to go for the snazzy & complicated ... oh dear.


Books are low capacity pre analogue storage media. Stories can be told withing the pages of books or from electronic files.


@11: The one serialized eBook experiment I've seen ran with a price of $2.99 for each chapter, of a book that would cost $11.99 in its full format. I suspect that's going to become a norm for professional serials (not necessarily self-pub), making them a luxury way to get early access to books that would be coming out in their full format anyway. See also Stephen King's The Green Mile - as you say, this isn't new at all.


My personal guess is that the biggest change we will see in most books will be the loss of the linear, closed system nature that right now come so natural with the paper medium.

I'm not speaking so much of narrative, althoug many video games can be already seen as non-linear novels, but more of the other kind of products: once you're used to navigate your data with some degree of freedom, it's difficult to go back, ask traditional encyclopedia and technical manuals vendors.

Even on textbooks, my company is working right now at introducing textbooks with a choice of different learning paths pre-composed for the teachers, where the same material is organized under different paths according to different teaching approachs... the teacher have only to choose one of the pre-arranged paths and can use the material in the usual linear fashion... or he can ignore it and arrange a new one.

So, I see future book as essentialy a collection of certified data, authored by one or more persons who have some kind of creative or functional organic vision to implement, with a functional fruition way that can range from the most free (random searchable data) to the most linear (digital version of an old fashioned book), from the fully interactive (video-game like) to the totally passive (again, old-fashioned like).

After all, footnotes, bibliography, appendices, indexes, even "choose your own path adventures" and tapes allegates and so on existed well before the digital book exactly because we always needed something more than a linear text progression.
The digital medium, apart being much more spacious, make it easier to include and access to them, and further blur the lines between different kind of "data".


The electronic book hollows out the market for the disposable book and the utilitarian book. It creates a new market for the multimedia book -- one barely scratched, although it's been theorized about for decades. (It may be that this form is rather poor for conveying the experience of reading because it uses too many channels to convey information.)

I look at my wall of art and photography books, and I am not seeing too many that can be replaced with a tablet. Think of Willy Wonka's chewing gum, which provided the flavors of a full meal -- but hardly the full sensory experience of one.

So. The printed book will compete on the ground where it has the advantage: providing qualities that the iPad of 2033 can't. Tactile, visual, and kinesthetic on the one hand; centuries of design expertise and tradition on the other.


I see this with a web developer background and given that current ebook technology is based on web technology I can't help to think that the current crop of frontend designer and frontend developer could be the new DTP-designer to the current DTP-designer. Web designer because ebooks have a similar feature compared to web pages, a layout under different height and weight constraint (and different font sizes). It is a different way of thinking compared to pixel-perfect (point-perfect?) layouts.

Programmers are relevant for better visualisations, interactive graphics, for a lack of a better word: widgets. That is right here, right now. Apple forked the ePub3-Format and its iBooks Author application allows embedding of such widgets and I believe programming own widgets using the usual trifecta of HTML, CSS and Javascript. For a certain kind of book I expect that to expand. A economics textbook with integrated calculators or life graphics, a programming textbook with an integrated interpreter, an astronomic textbook, where the reader can experiment with her own colours for images in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The problem is what and how to visualize something interactive. A new profession of a visualisation expert could be helpful for these one of a kind widgets. Bret Victor did some experiments and essays into explorable documents. Coincidentally he is also the programmer behind the App-version of Al Gores book.

Given that ebooks are in fact packaged and drm'ed webpages, having a layout system and an virtual machine for computations they have the same capabilities of these and could be anything. Perhaps some will even look like these strange multimedia experiments on cd-roms of the early 90ies.

And that is just the user interface. There is also the network connection which, when utilized, can form to new professions. Hi, I'm the book annotation moderator at Tor, I work mostly on the books of Stross. I never looked if it exists, because I found it depressing, but book annotation spam could be one of these strange digital artifacts nobody expects and then ruins someones day.

Also: Updates. Continuously written (and rewritten) books. Buy the first written chapters of Merchant Princes TNG now and get the rest, as soon as they are done.

On the other hand: It is a lot of work, even with the basic possibilities of ePub3. Given all the bad and lazy formatted ebooks I find on my Kindle I don't imagine current publishers are on the forefront of this.


(Reminder for myself: Before submitting always look if the zero comments at the starting time of writing are still zero or if there are quicker commenter who already made all my points…)


When thinking from the "information transmission from my head to yours" point of view, it is probably worth looking at all the studies done in education on the effects of online learning, MOOCs, etc. There's now considerable differentiation between "content creation" and "teaching", and some work on the importance of the steps in between and so on.

My personal opinion is that the parts that can currently be automated are not sufficiently important to actually transmit enough information into another (fee paying!) human's head. It's not what you say, it's how you say it.


That's a good point about playing with narrative structure. Either within a single book, or by serialized release. You could have a single overarching meta-story with multiple plots from different perspectives and even in different genres.

Someone with the ebook could decide what order they want to read it in. Do they want to follow the detective or the murderer? A male character or female?

Wondering what character X is doing -- jump to their narrative.

It would also solve the problem large epics have with too many characters. For example, A Song of Ice and Fire has tons of characters, and is organized so each chapter follows one of them. In 20 years you might be able to do a similar epic, but someone could just follow Tyrian.

It would be quite a lot of work to produce though, perhaps it would work best as a collaboration.


The only change I can think of that doesn't already exist is the social networking angle - do we want books that allow for user annotation and commenting? I personally like to concentrate on the original text when I read, but the current younger generation seems more comfortable doing everything as a crowd.

As a library worker I definitely see the trend toward ebooks, especially in reference and textbooks. Metadata is key, and I can foresee books with hyperlinks to external sources and glossaries.


I think the most important part of this post is the slight stumble over indexing. The "in principle" futurologist line on indexing is that it can be automated. What's actually happening is that indexing (= producing an alphabetised list of entries with page numbers) is being automated - and this, being much cheaper, is being used to replace indexing (= the skilled trade of producing a good index), with adverse consequences both for the skilled people whose valuable occupation this was and for the finished product.

(It's Ludd, that's right. You can call me Ned.)

I think there's a real danger in speculations like these of mistaking a process for a toolkit, and consequently forgetting about where agency lies. The question isn't "what new things could we make with steam looms?" - it's "why are the owners bringing in steam looms and what kind of world are they going to give us?"

Specifically, digital distribution has a tendency to atomise and disaggregate, dissolving larger forms and routing around gatekeepers and tollbooths; in music it's been bad for albums, bad for record labels and appallingly bad for artists. I hate to think what it could do to book publishing.

Books in 2033? Scarce, ma'am, mighty scarce.


The only change I can think of that doesn't already exist is the social networking angle - do we want books that allow for user annotation and commenting?

Unfortunately that does exist. Kindles come with a feature that is on by default that allows people to underline and comment on quotes in a book. This then appears as ugly intrusions on anyone else reading said book.

It's like being back at school and having to use a book that kids from each previous year have scribbled all over. I'm not saying that there couldn't be scope for integrating social media and books but this current way is distracting and immersion breaking (which is counterproductive for a medium that requires concentration and immersion).


(Answers dependent on world+society not undergoing any dramatic changes in the next decade.)

Like many others, I think that cheap fiction paperbacks will disappear from the market. As electronic readers (phone, tablet, computer, dedicated device) become increasingly common, accepted, and cheap, the demand will fall. I don't expect this process to be completed within a decade, but I expect airports will be one of the last holdouts.

(It'll be interesting also to see what happens to the paper companies in the next decade. I wouldn't be surprised if their chemists came up with a cellulose-based material to use in 3d printers.)

I expect to see subscription services, like Spotify or Netflix, for ebooks. Amazon will likely be one of the first ones trialing this, probably starting with self-pub and small-press in the Kindle store. It'll be interesting to see how the big publishing houses, Google and Apple respond.

I expect there'll be more literary experimentation, or possibly that literary experimentation will reach a wider audience, in non-physical books. For instance:
- an omniscient 3rd person narrative story where you can show/hide the thoughts and inner monologues of all the characters.
- branching/interweaving narratives where you can chose whose story to follow
- a common chose-your-adventure document format (possible in epub3, with javascript, but will still leave the whole thing visible)
- ransombooks, where the first two thirds or thre quarters are free, and you just pay for the ending, and can indicate what ending you want

I expect bibliophiles to keep buying hardbacks.

I expect there'll be an ongoing shift towards ebooks in schools, and that this will get into younger groups. I imagine this will also run as a subscription service, where you lose the books you're not entitled to any more after graduating.


book annotation spam could be one of these strange digital artifacts nobody expects

Funnily enough, I just wrote a thousand words on that very topic ...


Maybe we'll see a resurgence in physical books just to avoid annotation spam. Or perhaps a black market in 'stripped' ebooks a la TV torrents with removed Ads.


Hollowing-out of the disposable book market? Definitely. Non-encroachment on the high-end book that has tactile/cultural aspects you can't display on a screen? Also definitely true.

But what I'm looking for are the other cases. Replacing your photography book: no. Giving you an alternative photography book where you can see the finished photograph then peel away the editorial process in Photoshop that produced it, all the way back to the RAW image, with the photographer's post-processing notes to explain it all? That'd be something else.

I'm not sure that the ISBN will stick around, at least in its current form. Which will be confusing for libraries

I don't think they'll be that confused. They already deal with books before the era of ISBN, and the cataloguing, classification & access to other information and ephemera that lack ISBNs now.

Librarians rock!

(Disclaimer - my ex-librarian partner could take me in a fair fight - I may be biased ;-)


Someone with the ebook could decide what order they want to read it in. Do they want to follow the detective or the murderer? A male character or female?

Someone did this back in the 1990s. Wrote a novel with multiple paths through it. It was released as a HyperCard stack, so you probably can't read it now.


Books with musical accompaniment built in? Books with 'author/editor commentary'?


After some thought, and reading the existing comments...

Unless the mass market adopts the present low lifetime (I have paperbacks published in the 1950s, hard-covers from the 1930s, and most digital media have a lifetime of 5 to 10 years tops) model, I don't see books changing much.


For non-fiction, I think a "packaged" book, whether digital or paper, will become an afterthought. I think the line between book publishing and blogging and research will thin out.

Writers will have websites that are bushy hypertext. They will regularly be writing article/chapter-sized narratives that reference earlier bits, and accreting a more macro framework to navigate those narratives.

Reader annotations/discussions will be part of the experience, as will the "author's" annotations on his own source materials.

To contradict my first sentence, I think writers will periodically "package" a ThinBook which is a summary of their online corpus. The ebook version will heavily link to bits of that corpus. Perhaps a printed version will have lots of footnotes that are just short URLs?


How about something really crazy, like a book that syncs with Oculus Rift goggles so you can actually see the location described in the book?


Books with musical accompaniment built in?

Look, I like to choose what, if any, music I listen to when I'm reading.


Reasoning - time and money.

Unless the leisure time of utopia or permanent unemployment of a dystopia appears. Structurally we can hope for positive change in the economy but Soylent Green Inc may be a better bet.

I see people with less time and money to invest in the amazingly wide range of material available.

I don't know who first read the start of the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F Hamilton. But what an investment of time to start with.

Why would you risk so much in a world of almost infinte choice?

Yes it is old school the serialized novel. Doesn't mean it won't make a comeback.


I can see the Amazon suggestion model move in the actual book. The story develops differently for everyone based on your likes/dislikes in previous read stories. You like sad endings you get a sad one. You like a happy ending you can have that. You reread the story it will be different. If you don't want to read you have a pleasant enough voice synthesizer on your device to read it for you (no need for anymore).


Hyperlinks might start showing up in booklike objects. I recall a French translation [1] of Brave New World, with footers explaining the Shakesperian references for those more familiar with Racine and Moliere.

[1] which increased the science fictional displacement nicely over the original

I don't see most writers throwing in links any time soon, though. It'd be like "his eyes slithered down her dress", jerk the reader right out of the narrative. Maybe fiction could take a tip from movies, featuring a link-free mode like this:

"But nowadays we're better than they are: buncha hicks, like some third-world dictatorship -- Upper Volta with shoggoths."

And the Director's Commentary version like this:

"But nowadays we're better than they are: buncha hicks, like some third-world dictatorship -- Upper Volta with shoggoths".


Ah, the existing paperback market, particularly in the US, is much predicated on the read once and then discard model. A lot of readers don't intend to keep those books once read (particularly the more voracious Mills&Boon customers) any more than I keep back copies of Private Eye or other magazines. Why reread an old book when there's a fresh new one?

Yes, this is the pulp market.

But it's fine with them if a book's not readable 5 years down the line, as long as it was a bit cheaper to start with.


(Note: Small textual explosion, please make tea)

I am going to err on what I know as a professional academic writer, poet, tweeter, and publisher of small-scale handmade books (both paper and online):

In academia, despite a lot of ongoing protestation, the format of writing and publishing is expanding. Conference proceedings have been done as a graphic novel, textbooks as podcasts, journal articles written in the form of poetry, fanzines produced, and online monographs that are re-written over time (I can provide examples of each on request). So what? So rather than thinking about the 'book' as your object, maybe it's more helpful to think in terms of 'where do you get your ideas' (both fiction and factual, and I am not opening up the debate on that divide, here). That means the following are up for grabs:

:: Your audience category is no longer limited by fact or fiction but may blur the two (in these days where academia is obsessed by impact, this is already happening), and this is way beyond just embedding wikipedia links in a novel, or references to William Gibson in a textbook.

:: Our skills as writers will shift, so that authors may also need expertise to collaborate with illustrators, or be illustrators as well as writers, have voice training and media training for video productions. Most authors already have to develop such skills, running self-employed businesses and maintaining a particular identity through online and offline performance (academia is a bit slow on realising this, but that's my own bugbear).

:: This also means skills as a reader may change, which is something often overlooked, but you have to learn how to read new objects, and this takes time. Just launching into the universe with a whole new way to write books will leave you with an audience of zero. Thus, I suspect, how we get our ideas in 2033 will be very similar in format than over-hyping futurists may expect.

:: Fanfiction is serious stuff, if anyone stops to notice how much there is, and spin-off merchandising is, with a Stross-squint, more or less fanfiction by another name; academia could be said to be almost all fanfiction, since we are committed to building on prior work. All of us get our ideas and stories across multiple media, and I think and hope that will continue and develop with flashy-LED bells on. A book, as it is now, is a gateway to a universe, to a set of characters, worlds, an ecosystem that lives over paper, ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts (official or not), graphic novels, computer game, youtube clips, t-shirts (mustn't forget the t-shirts), blogs (here we all are)… and so on. Like academia, it all references each other, and that could be made explicit. The patchwork of media will vary depending on audience, but it's as true for academia as it is for LOTR and Mass Effect. Rather than one media being primary and the others being spin-offs, there is the opportunity to write simultaneously across media (this has been played with before, of course, many times), and there is no reason this needs to be limited to blockbusters, but indie mixed-media publishing is definitely now possible.

:: The hidden trick is the fact that these industries are separate entities, with different cultures, expertise, and legal systems. I think it is the backroom girls and boys, those who work on the standards and legal small print, who are the ones that need the most help to make any book future. As an anthropologist I will play my card and say, what you need in your little meeting, Charlie, is a clear understanding of books and publishing now as a social and technical infrastructure, in order to figure out how that behemoth might shift. (If you want an anthropology of publishing, I can probably ferret out links).

:: And then there is pirating, and there is an awful lot of that, too, and even more fear of it (Charlie, I think you have said lots about this, so I will defer to your expertise), but as I think has been said ad nauseam, much of this is an effect of the collision between borderless data transmission (we don't know when our little packets trip over a national border), and the heavily patrolled national borders of copyright. I hope your meeting has some serious folks who are thinking about international copyright, copyleft, creative commons, because the future of the book is, as far as I can see, currently in the straightjacket of nationalised property ownership. It's not sexy, perhaps, but if international publishing could actually be international and across multiple-media (which is what pirating makes possible, it's just not legal, and therefore stops us writers from keeping the roof over our heads) then, omg, imagine…

:: Finally, never forget the computer games industry. It's bigger than Hollywood, and already has several home delivery platforms for interactive storytelling. How about Valve as the biggest publishing house for science fiction in 2033. Wakey, wakey, Random House!


Hm... at some point, and I'm not sure if 2033 is far enough off, I expect it to become possible to transfer memories or experiences from one mind to another.

If I acquire the experience of having read a book from someone, does that "product" count *as* a new form of "book", or as something else?

I can actually imagine very good readers having their services come into demand. A reader who's good at extracting meaning from technical documentation may be able to sell those experiences. A reader who derives extremely high levels of enjoyment from fiction may be able to sell those experiences. Both would, I think, come partially at the cost of sales of the original works.

(Even "better" might be very good improvisational actors / LARPers selling more immersive fictional experiences.)

At some further point, I expect mind-to-mind transfer to become so cheap and routine that the notion of information as a thing to be controlled and sold won't make sense anymore. I'm hoping for a basically non-coercive opt-in hive mind (or sets of them), where participants thoroughly out-compete non-participants on the world stage. At that point fiction may take the form of hive minds engaging in daydreaming. (In fact, I'd argue that in a sense, that's precisely what it is today.)


I'd like to think about scientific publishing for a bit.

For those who don't know, the scientific publishing field looks a lot like vanity publishing in fiction: the scientist writes a paper, pays to have it published (or, for more social cachet, gets someone else to pay to publish it for him or her), edits it per reviewer and editor specifications (reviewers are not paid, and in more esoteric fields, neither is the editor), produces, in many cases, a close to camera-ready copy, signs away the copyright, pays to have it published, and gets a smile pile of reprints and/or a pdf in return. The publisher then charges people to read it (going rate is US$20-$40/paper), charges people to buy subscriptions, puts in ads, and rakes in a huge amount of money. Elsevier is vastly larger than Harlequin, one of the bigger fiction houses. Elsevier and the others profit because having papers in prestigious journals is how academics keep their jobs.

Problem is, none of this superstructure is necessary any more. Any group of scientists could easily put together an editor and review committee and publish free online, or via lulu or other print-on-demand, for a small fraction of what the industry giants charge. This would save everyone money, free knowledge to circulate at a time when academic budgets are getting hammered, and revolutionize a bunch of sciences. Unfortunately, no one wants to be the first to jump, and the open source science market is currently cluttered with fake journals catering to those who want to inflate their CV with junk papers.

With that prologue, let's assume two things happen: budget cuts force sciences and schools to retract their crania from their lower intestines and stop paying for vanity publishing. What happens next?

One thing is that chaos rules, more than it does today in, say, Chinese science. Science does need gatekeepers, not to keep the uninitiated out, but as mudlarks to filter through the crap and promote the non-crap. It's a thankless job that should be paid for. Unfortunately, that means paying reviewers, not paying publishers. Can this happen? If so, how do we assign credit to those who promote good work, along with those who produce it? Give them reviewer credit on a paper, perhaps? Still, open source science, where everything is available to everyone, is a wonderfully democratic idea, and I'm more than a little saddened that the direct democracy advocates aren't pushing for it.

So, along with the chaos of unfettering knowledge, we have another problem: those big legacy publishers and how they fail. See, they own the copyrights to all those papers. If they go under, those copyrights become assets for their creditors to do with as they wish. Yes, this is most of scientific progress for the last century. If you think that paying $30 for an obscure but vital paper is extortion now, imagine what ol' Big Knuckle Louie and his mooks at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe Academic Rendering are going to charge you. Nice science you got here. Shame if anything...happened to it.

Which is why I think that there's something terribly valuable about all those dusty old books and bound journals with their archival paper. A lot of blood, sweat and tears produced that knowledge. Sadly, libraries left and right are throwing them out to make space for more terminals.

2033 will be on the other side of this mess, I suspect. I wonder what, if anything, will be left? Google replacing Elsevier, perhaps?


A book you could engage in an argument would be awesome.


I was going to bring up "book annotation spam" as something that is going to be endemic to the electronic works of 2033...but long since beaten to the punch.

Paper books in 2033 will be objects d'art(high end). I think the paperback book will be long dead.

Books themselves will be moving toward multimedia experiences. 'Play' a Alex Bledsoe novel and hear the music of the Tufa at points, as you read the book. If you read, and don't listen--audio will be standard. Add in images and video as well.

Interactivity between different readers--the book annotation spam. It will be connected to ad technology and so difficult to turn off. The only "pure experience" devoid of this or bells and whistles will be paper.

The novel form--not sure where that will go, but we have to keep in mind that it has to be something a writer can *write*.


Like in imaging (photo-print-movies etc) there will always be room for the analog version.
In general whatever is the state of technology and commercially viable option allowing for mass production at lowest cost resulting in consumption allowing for highest profit - will dictate means.
Considering current technology trend this will be obviously digital.
Really hard to imagine a future where one can not lay on the beach flipping through a raggy mag or semi-disposable paperback -has a certain tactile charm.
And then there's the power issue. Have yet to quit reading a book because of battery drain.
Usually light is available in abundance - free - when reading paper.
Safe to say printed paper copy will never disappear - merely be another version.
So we'll simply have more choices.
Which is what it's all about, no?


Humor me; I'm currently a programmer, so have a tendency to go for the technical solution.

If your argument against using Github for novels is "Well, we'd need a new ISBN each commit, wouldn't we?", why wouldn't we start using the SHA hash of a particular commit to refer to the exact version of a book we mean? It's by definition unique whenever anyone submits a change to an existing text, it doesn't require a central issuer, and it can be applied to books that aren't on Github (just checksum the text).

If your point was "The problems here are more political/procedural than technical", point taken.

About books in general:

I can't see kids' books changing too radically. The ones we own are necessarily waterproof, impact resistant and chewable. And none of those are properties associated with any kind of computer I've heard about (hence I don't see Childrens' e-books taking off).

For novels and non-reference texts, my Kindle has already replaced almost all of my printed books, and some sort of Linux-based tablet will replace my Kindle as soon as they crack the week-long battery life mark.

Meanwhile, my reference texts have been replaced entirely by StackExchange and Google, neither of which really count as books.

In fact, now that I actually sit down to think about it, the only two physical books I've sat down to read over the past half year were a copy of Neptune's Brood (because my wife and I sat down to read it together) and a well-thumbed Sandman collected edition (for the same reason).

Does your blog qualify as a book? Blogs in general? How about when they're collected into a book? Assuming that qualifies, at what point did Joel go from "Blogger" to "Book writer"? Does this github qualify? How about this wikibook?

The answer may be that "book" is a meaningless distinction in a world that already has the kind of specialized information distribution mechanisms that we now have.


You say "I think the paperback book will be long dead."

If you mean as a product being sold, sure, maybe. But if the manufacturing costs are low enough...

I myself do not *like* reading hardcover books. They are too big and bulky, and their value and the desire to preserve them means that whenever I'm reading one, a part of me is engaged in preserving the artifact I'm interacting with.

I *very* much prefer reading a small cheap pocketable paperback that can be easily replaced. They're easier to transport and my experience of reading them has me in a considerably less self-conscious state.

So: if I can "buy" the data, and then push a button on a home fabber to, at a cost of let's say 25¢ or something, instantiate it in the form of a paperback, which I then toss back into the hopper when I'm done with it?

If that's practical, I can easily imagine doing a lot of reading that way, particularly when I'm on certain specific types of vacation. (Example: my dad's little lakeside summer cabin does not have any internet service at all, and I still go there on purpose sometimes!)


I've noticed a few articles in photography magazines giving photographers tips on creating self publishing photo ebooks. I think there is a definite possibility that photography books could be replaced by ebooks, especially as tablet display technology meets print resolution.

And photography ebooks offer a lot of interesting options, like you say. Showing different steps, enabling users to view the same image with different filters. Or even more likely - zooming. Want a closer look at that old barn in that landscape -- no problem on a tablet. And by 2033 I fully expect camera sensor tech to be good enough to capture high quality images in the gigapixel range.


Here's a thought -- prose that changes difficulty based on the reading skills of the reader. Or that censors itself for minors (or local laws).


If I was going to guess what books look like in 2033:

  • A lot more people writing and publishing 'em - so much higher content quality variability
  • Subscription models, especially for non-fiction.
  • In the area of non-fiction the line between a work-in-progress and a published work getting very fuzzy
  • A lot more price variation
  • A lot more size variation
  • Paper books as "beautiful objects".

"Normal" people can now fairly simply get the tools to write and publish a "book" on Amazon. It may look awful, it may be terribly edited, the cover may look like it's drawn by a two year old. But it's there. That trend can only continue.

As others have said - more subscription-ish models for distribution. I'm already buying non-fiction "books" where I get early access to initial drafts, automatic updates and corrections, etc. I can only see that trend increasing.

On the production side I've already worked as a reviewer on a few technical books that have arrived in the form of a git or svn repository. Authors pushed out changes as they wrote, people pushed notes, fixes, etc. back.

Admittedly this is in the domain of computing where everybody involved (including the publishers) were fairly technical. As a part of workflow for "normal" people it would have failed miserably. But we're already seeing a few folk doing similar things as services with a vaguely sane UX (see for example.) They likely won't fit into the work flows of traditional publishers - but they'll be used by other folk.

Because of this I can imagine that the line between unpublished and published works is going to get very fuzzy. Along with the line between production and distribution. For non-fiction anyway.

There are some smart people in my field where I will pay good money to read early drafts of their writing because it provides more than enough value to be worth the expense.

And while I'm on the theme of value - another change is to decouple of the price of the book from the format / word count.

People don't expect supermarket jeans and designer jeans to cost the same - but we've been trained to think that way about books.

Currently I generally pay the same $value independent of author. But I (honestly) would happily pay N for author X and 2*N for author Y - because author Y gives me twice the enjoyment / value. I'd have dropped a tenner on the digital Equoid without giving it a second thought.

The flip side of that is that authors aren't tied to book formats either. I've read lots of fantastic technical ebooks that would have been way too short to be published in traditional book form. That long fantasy book no longer has to be cut up into three volumes. And so on.

That doesn't just have an effect on the format. It has an effect on the delivery time and marketing feedback loops. It's much, much faster to push out a "good" 60 page ebook on a new hot technical topic than it is to produce a 200 page paper book. You're seeing companies that don't have the traditional work flow oriented around paper books - dealing with much narrower scope and smaller groups of authors. They're bound to be more responsive.

Paper books still around - but because they're really, really nice pieces of "art". Folio society, the special editions, etc.


Re: "until we're rearing infants on iPads"

We're already there. A year or two back one of my daughter's teachers mentioned that she was starting to encounter children who didn't know how to use non-touchscreen computers. "Keyboard? How quaint!"


Re: Books with musical accompaniment built in?

I'll second @paws4thot's NOOOOOO!!!!!!, and raise it to a HELL NOOOOOO!!!!!! for laugh tracks in comedy books ;-)


Yeah, I've seen kids in restaurants and such who can't even really walk but can navigate an ipad or iphone.


A surge in human editors, story-writers, even for non-fiction books?

Talking with retired professors of writing their PhD theses, versus writing today, with the use of typewriters vs. word processors shows how linear a process writing used to be. Decades ago writing was much more an extemporizing exercise - reading a story to a pen or typewriter. One particularly fortunate chemistry PhD was even assigned a secretary (by his employer) to speed up his thesis: he dictated it. Today its hard to think of doing that - we assemble the data and graphs and references we need and write the paper / thesis to fill in the gaps. Writing and editing on a computer is very much a non-linear process.

But in the future with embedded widgets and datasets, reading becomes a more non-linear exercise (more even than the web). I'm thinking of the case of a multi-dimensional dataset (with eg. 4 dimensions) by providing sliders to rotate the data / move along a time axis, etc. The reader views the data from different directions. But unlike a graph or simple diagram that "tells one story" there is more in a multi-dimensional dataset and you have to work to keep a linear storyline in the readers mind. So a more televisual "editing" and "directing" skill is needed.


Dan Gilmor just asked, "what if an ebook was hosted on Github? Would it need a new ISBN every time someone fixed a bug or typo?" And he's quite right: there's a limited supply of ISBNs (10^13 now, after the switch from ISBN-10 to ISBN-13) and the issuers charge a fee for issuing a new one.

Technical publishing is already there. One technical small press, The Pragmatic Programmers (yes, it is a small press despite the name) does in fact maintain its books in a source repository, streaming in corrections and amendations which make it into new printings. I haven't checked how they're handling ISBNs, but they may just be putting a separate printing number on it, to indicate the content revision, for anything less than chapter-level rewrites.

For that matter, has it been the practice of traditional publishers to change the ISBN when they correct typos between printings? That wasn't my impression.


I was going to second, third, whatever the comments about kids with iPads. I've just finished proofreading an article for a friend and serious app developer about the differences in app design by age group for children under 6 months, 6-12 months, 1-2 years, 2-4 years, 4-6 years, 6-10 years and over 10. My very rusty Piaget suggests he's not got the right dividing lines but it was still an interesting read and based on his empirical observation of his own kids and the children of his friends and family.

But kids under 1 are certainly happy using iPads if their parents are happy to let them.

I'm thinking about the bigger question.


I would still expect the novel form, published in physical form to still be dominant. I don't see this form seriously changing in favor of "experimental" forms, as such approaches have failed before, as have they in movies. A linear form is still the most approachable and understandable way to absorb content, and importantly, a handle on which to verbally convey the gist to others. There is certainly some value in adding the equivalent of "director comments", and various links and overlays to enhance the context of the material, although I suspect this is a minority interest.

As has been stated upstream, for material that is more subject to change, e.g. academic publishing, the electronic version, highly annotated would be very useful. I would dearly love to see scientific papers with reviewer comments, subsequent errata and corrections, and even retractions and counterfactual results packaged. This would really help the non-expert understand the work and reduce the time to assimilate useful information. The Wikipedia model might be a good step in that direction.

A trend that might impact a lot of books, some more than others, is the rising impact of video. I personally hate video that is little more than a talking head, but video that shows how to do something or the the changes in something over time is very powerful. Embedding such video in the "methods" of a scientific paper could be very helpful to replicate an experiment.


"What do you think books will look like in 2033?"

Whatever the NSA wants them to look like, I suppose. Given the relentless technological progress of the security state, by 2033 books will read you.


Hmm. On further reflection, bit rot would be a problem; annotations or references should be contained within the data blob as external links are not guaranteed to exist, let alone be reachable if the network goes down or is otherwise unavailable as on airplanes.

And proprietary reader formats will each pass into oblivion. For example, how many floppy disks has anyone here used over the past five years?


Suddenly, my mind start boggling at the contract negotiations involved in deciding the royalty rates for 'sale to individuals of forking rights on github' as part of some sort of 'monetisation of a right to commit fan-fic' scheme.


And he's quite right: there's a limited supply of ISBNs (10^13 now, after the switch from ISBN-10 to ISBN-13) and the issuers charge a fee for issuing a new one.

Currently only 2x10^9 after the switch. An ISBN-10 has 9 useable digits plus a checksum character so 10^9 there, an ISBN-13 has the same 9 digits and (different) checksum plus a 978 or 979 prefix to fit them into the EAN-13 barcode system.


I have trouble reasoning about this question because there are so many answers.

If by "book" we mean a specific form factor, then I expect books in 2033 will look much like books in 1933, except newer, and of course with different text. Also, different paper.

If by "book" we mean a work of authorship? That discussion gets so broad that I don't even know where to start.

So I'd offer a counter question: what constraints are we placing on this discussion? Even if we limit ourselves to "textual presentation of ideas" that still leaves us with way too much breadth (dubbed films, nutrition information on food packaging, a printout representing a segment of dna). And yet some books contain almost no text.

Do we even have an adequate definition of what a book is right now?

I mean, are electronic books "real books" or just a metaphor? And if "metaphors" are actively competing with "real" books - and coming out on top - what is it that we are really talking about?


I'm reminded of Medium's comment system - there's a plus symbol (that turns into a comment counter once a comment is added) on each paragraph that allows you to add comments to that paragraph, with the option of highlighting a section of the text to go along with the comment. None of this is shown until you expand the plus symbol, though.


I'm imagining a short story collection, with contributions from single-page to novellette length, titled "Rashomon 2.0"...


Well, the 977 prefix is reserved for ISSNs instead of ISBNs, but I'm not sure if the 970 - 976 range is allocated yet.

(ISSN - International Standard Serial Number: a 7-digit identifier with, in the ISSN-13 variant, a 2-digit sequence number)

But yeah, maybe time to start using QR Codes to store Git hashes, though there's something to be said for a hierarchical structure.

an omniscient 3rd person narrative story where you can show/hide the thoughts and inner monologues of all the characters.
Not quite already done, but Warren Ellis' SVK could be read as a first-person narrative or as a first-person semi-omniscient narrative depending on whether you used the included device.

Looks like 970-976 isn't officially allocated but may be in use in places where there isn't an established allocating body.

And 979 is shared with 979-0 being the ISMN for sheet music...


I don't know if's been covered, I haven't read all the comments. But, for fiction books at least, I think there will be a lot more interactivity. Say you get half way through a book and a character from the beginning reappears, "who's this?" you may think, well a quick tap on their name will bring up a paragraph describing that characters role so far. The same would go for other things in novels, locations, companies etc.

This MAY be automatically done with some sort of weak AI, statistical analysis type of thing. And if I can't be done that way it would add A LOT of work to the editor / author, or this may well be a new job role.

On e-readers we've already got dictionary and thesaurus capabilities, to help us understand text, I think that this would be the logical progression.


OK, first pass - I would imagine that there will still be paperbacks, hardbacks, journals, blogs, magazines, eBooks and more. The thing from the current "paper" publication industry that will be dramatically gone will be the newspaper. The balance between them will probably be different - I imagine we'll see the death of the 'trade' paperback but hardbacks and pulp paperbacks will remain.

Magazines will survive simply because, unless someone suddenly has a breakthrough, even on iPads the ones that ought to work don't, and the one's that might work don't even get close. Paperbacks will survive because, to compare to a different medium for a moment every time we've heard of the death of one performance art form - "Cinema will be the death of theatre!" "TV will be the death of film!" etc. - they've possibly become more niche but they've survived. I read mostly eBooks now. I've bought about 20 eBooks this year. But I've bought about 15 books this year too. Some of that is for series I've got in book form already. Some is books I can't get in an eBook format. Some is just because I like books. I don't see that going away.

For newspapers I imagine there will be a few - possibly some Sundays, the FT and the like, possibly the equivalents of The Metro and the Evening Standard that are free and 100% supported by adverts. But between online news and better and better news aggregators, newspaper circulations are falling through the floor.

In terms of the authorial support professions, as someone that reads far too much fanfic, there's definitely an on-going need for good editors and copy editors. And until we get good language AI that's going to continue. Will that be here in the next 20 years? Not really my field, but it's been one of those "next 10 years" things for the last 30 at least, so you'll forgive me if I'm skeptical.

We're actually already seeing embedded video, audio etc. as footnotes and more, plus manipulatable models in iBooks. It's not exactly easy to do well (certainly not the 3D models) but it's not hard to do either. If you can write a webpage to do that, you can write it into iBooks pretty much. That will become more widespread and will have exploded and settle down in the next 20 years. If you're reading a book about a DJ you'll be able to choose to listen to her playlist. Choose being the important word there. If you're reading a technical book, you'll be able to watch the experiment, unpeel the layers of the .psd, whatever it is. I'm kind of looking forward to the mature forms, I'm dreading the teenage rebel phase.

In the realm of storytelling I'm not so sure what changes we'll see. We tend to have fairly linear storytelling or some limited choice making systems (choose your own adventures etc). We could back-tag an existing story - retell LOTR solely from Sam's POV say, or Pippin's - and I might even read it. But I have to wonder would anyone actually write in such a fashion? Maybe, but I think splitting POVs and advancing the overall story is often done badly enough anyway...

In terms of text books I suspect there will be a more modular approach than we currently see. We won't buy Stryer's Biochemistry, say. We'll instead buy a 'module' akin to a chapter on glycolysis for first year undergraduates. It might be the one from Stryer, since glycolysis hasn't changed a lot recently (although we'll get a chapter with the right numbers of ATP from FADH2 for mammalian cells please). Then we'll buy a chapter on something else for the first year biochemistry course from someone else.

I would imagine a better system for text-to-audio for book-readers for people who like that. I'd add a system for on-the-fly reformatting. Take your section of your eBook, pull out keywords, break things down into a key-points and bullet points whatever you need. Not so much changing the author's end of the system as changing the ways the users can interact with what they can do with it. I can't see wanting to do that with a work of fiction, but learning materials? It's meant to help me learn dammit, make it easy for me to learn with it how I learn.


Few points. I think there are several types of publications that will remain in hard copy.

First off the previously mentioned deluxe and/or display books.

Secondly, materials intended for areas that are hostile to ebook readers ( i.e. moist/ greasy/ acidic/etc )

Thirdly, emergency materials -- i.e. first aid/ inclement weather/power loss managment materials)

That said the bulk of production will be electronic -- the reduction in warehousing, storage, and logistic costs will drive it. Some Print on Demand will still likely exist, but the bookstore as we know it will likely be on its way out.

Materials will likely be more tightly bound to their electronic presence -- i.e. with links to wikis and debates in re them, possibly to their fan communities and/or similar publications.


Many of the ideas for narrative experimentation in electronic books have already been instantiated as printed books. There's the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children's books, but also the OuLiPo group, Cortázar's Hopscotch, Nabokov's Pale Fire, etc. They haven't changed the basic idea of reading very much. Similarly, the interactive text adventure -- which I personally enjoyed a lot, to the point where I tried my hand at writing a few -- doesn't seem to have made much of a dent. Even your post-photography idea has precursors in the acetate sheets included in some encyclopedias to show human anatomy.

What are the electronic book's strengths? The ability to store text (and images); the ability to search text (searching untagged images is significantly harder); soon enough, the ability to translate text.

It strikes me that the proper comparison is not between the electronic book and a paper book, but the electronic book and the services of a library, with libraries becoming more like research museums.

Is there a type of narrative that is equivalent to a library? Perhaps a sandbox narrative, like the recent (and visually sumptuous) videogame Grand Theft Auto V, or a shared universe of story -- say, two hundred fifty writers, artists, editors and other members of a narrative production team working together for five years on a mutually consistent and satisfying narrative universe.

It might be that there isn't an informed taste for that sort of sandbox narrative yet. But by 2033? There might be.


Ten years from now? Mostly the same, with the ratio between e-books and paper books changing towards the e-side, but with a large chunk of paper remaining. Maybe something like Amazons CD auto-rip will become available, so you buy the paper book (as present, or because of some more expressive or aesthetical qualities), but read it on your e-reader. And I guess there will be some more of the embedding of books already happening. You get the book, but also the interview with the author, the Whatever-Tech-AutoLink to the books standard webpage, where you can exchange comments, highlight the best parts, discuss the plot (-> cf. sobooks), maybe submit fanfiction, download the Youtube trailer and the added-material rpg ... (or if it is non-fiction, the addendums, additional information and the "ask the author a question"-app).


the bookstore as we know it will likely be on its way out.

Already happened. Barnes and Noble, and later Borders pushed out almost all the independent booksellers. Then Borders dies, leaving B&N. Then B&N mostly died, leaving many areas without a bookstore (at least in parts of California. B&N is also going the Borders' route in selling other stuff than books. AMZN is the category killer here. All that is left is struggling used bookstores.


If e-readers continue to increase in popularity until nearly all professional publications are available in (legitimate) electronic form, I suspect that writing and editing tools (primarily but not exclusively for non-fiction) will significantly change, particularly in the way in which quotation from other sources and their citations are handled. Specifically, I suspect that copying and pasting (or transcribing) existing sources will be replaced with direct references to the source material, which then get baked into the text-stream at publish time (preventing accidental transcription errors and erroneous edits of copy-pasted material from making their way into 'released' books, and simplifying the production of groups of related books with shared material). This will probably evolve into features available to users of e-readers over a period of five or ten years, as demand appears: some publishers will keep metadata about sources around for the benefit of schools and academics (The Waste Land would benefit from notations of this kind, for instance) while other publications will use this in a more high-concept way (I could imagine Neal Stephenson leaning heavily on this for a novel grounded in some historical period, and I could imagine William Gibson simply playing with it). Probably, this will make its way into other editing practices, and eventually we'll start to see a lot more rearrangement of paragraphs and sections in editing because the software will make it easier (I see the problem of ensuring correctness of quotes driving this, rather than the other way around, in part because a system that ensures quoting correctness by referencing some official version of the quoted material can also be leveraged to provide fine-grained royalty information). Eventually, literary references will become a bit more hard-edged in many cases, and readers will take advantage of what amounts to implicit hypertext between related books with different publishers (and the ebook reader will become more of a literary-universe-exploration-device rather than a paper-emulation-device).

[Full disclosure: I'm involved with Project Xanadu, so I have some incentive to encourage this kind of thing to actually happen.]


My 2 year 3 month old granddaughter was visiting a couple of weeks ago, and her mother had forgotten to bring the kid's Kindle along. I got out my iPad, and the kid watched Curious George cartoons on YouTube for the next hour or so quite happily. Note that her interest in watching videos hasn't affected her other development: she can count to 10, and does so enthusiastically (though without the Count's laugh).


Two more thoughts:

One (and this is already happening to some extent) is that, as e-books become more common and eat out the market for mass-market paperbacks, we'll start to see very fancy and expensive 'special edition' hardcovers intended for people who self-identify as bibliophiles of an older type. Barnes & Noble was ahead of the curve with this, and was pushing out versions of Moby Dick and the Divine Comedy bound in fake leather and with gilded page-edges about a decade ago; more recently, I purchased a fairly fancy-looking pleather-bound copy of Lovecraft's complete works. However, these were cheap in terms of material (not real leather, not real gold) and really only looked fancy; they were furthermore restricted to re-releases of older books. I suspect that, instead, we will see the book equivalent of special edition vinyl releases of new albums: expensive but very fancy, complete with all sorts of extras, and intended for collectors and hipsters. I expect that I will be able to purchase new hardback books in 2033 that come in hand-crafted varnished wooden boxes, have real leather binding, cost $400, and come with three bumper stickers and a t-shirt.

The other thought is that ebook readers will probably start having pretty good accessibility features (good screen-reading, support for braille displays that slip over the device), and that this will start to affect the industry surrounding audiobooks intended specifically for the blind (in other words, specialty audiobooks read by the author or by famous actors will be unaffected, and audiobooks read by professional voice actors will probably be only minimally affected; the market for human-read cookbooks and sewing machine manuals and other sorts of utilitarian non-fiction done with an eye toward inexpensive production and intended explicitly for the visually impaired will drop). So, this will probably start doing the same thing to the audiobook market: very high quality audiobooks will become more expensive because the low-quality ones will disappear. This might lead to an increase in the phenomenon of professional screen actors to go into voice-acting after they become too recognizable (as Mark Hamill did with cartoons and Patrick Stewart did with audiobooks, and John DeLancey did with both). In japan, there's a great deal of cross-over between popular music and voice-acting (although neither are particularly well-paid -- another story altogether) the way that there's a great deal of cross-over between screen acting and popular music in the united states; if voice acting in audiobooks becomes more lucrative by becoming more of a specialty product (and ties into anti-machine sentiments, as above: think arts-and-crafts movement), voice acting in general will probably begin benefiting from increased salaries and an influx of higher-profile screen actors.

So, in other words, I think the widespread use of ebook readers will lead to better voice acting in cartoons and books that come with t-shirts.


A couple of years ago, I did some experiments in building a tutorial on plane geometry on top of a dynamic geometry environment with an interface built on an interactive fiction engine.

You are at the origin of the Euclidian Plane, things look the same in all directions.
> north
You are at (0,1). There is an east-west arc here, curving towards south on both sides.
> west on arc
You are at (-1,0). There is a north-south arc here, curving towards east on both sides.

And so on. I stressed the fiction engine with some of the things I wanted to do, but the results were encouraging. This sort of interactive environment will likely be common in both fiction and non-fiction come 2033.


As well as storytelling such as GTA5, there's the whole area of multiplayer gaming, with varying degrees of imposed structure. What does something such as Second Life suggest as an alternative to books. And what happens when something of that sort resorts the the potentially abusive sort of copyright grab that seems to be coming out of the legal boiler-plate mills of modern corporate America.

It looks as though the operators of Second Life want a perpetual license to sell whatever story I might tell through that service, and it looks like a very common piece of boiler-plate.

There's a report on the apparent boiler-plate, with examples of various instances, as the ModemWorld blog. It's not even limited to granting the rights that would be needed to run Second Life.

The traditional publishing industry looks more wonderful every day, but can the good things survive the shift to the virtual world? Why are there so many things which are looking vaguely crooked?


Most of the previous respondents (I admit to not being extremely thorough in my reading) assume that the market for books will change because of the cost and flexibility advantages of e-books. I disagree; the market for books will change because books will be outcompeted by alternatives.

Look around you in any train, on any airport, or in the doctor's waiting room. Books have stopped being the go-to item for people with half an hour to kill. They can now go online, chat with their friends, play games, or watch movies on their highly versatile media consumption devices.

Books are nice, but for most people, they can't compare to social interaction or polished hollywood entertainment.As casual readers disappear, books aimed at casual readers will become less profitable. The reader demographic will skew increasingly older. The total market size decreases even more quickly than it does now.

Textbooks make no sense whatsoever in a networked, hyperlinked world with search engines that can almost pass the Turing test. They're obsolete already, their existence prolonged only by the fact that they're something that can be sold, as opposed to hyperlinked webpages.

While I'm sure that some books will be interactive, interactivity will almost inevitably add to the development costs of a book. Since most publishers seem to work with a model where one lucky bestseller pays for many duds, increasing the cost of a book means increasing the cost of those duds, with no appreciable upside. Expect interactive books to be safe and mainstream, like a big Hollywood movie.

Physical books may fill the same niche that mechanical watches do now. Completely obsolete technology, they've been repurposed as status symbols for the affluent.


An article I recently read on wired pointed to libraries, and the whole DRM and connected legal issues:
Given some bad luck, we might no longer buy books, but rights to read a certain peace of fiction during time interval X or N times. This could imply that, way after 2033, the household full of books some middle class kids grew up in might no longer exist - what comes instead?
The sharper fine tuning of pricing and deals and forbidding of resales that DRM will probably increase mean prices of "books", at least if "book" means "own indefinitly, be free to lend."

So, I'd guess beeing a bibliophile will be expensive even if one does without leather bound books.


& also @jim.r.gillespie has has been going a couple(?) of years doing exactly that: synched to your reading speed, providing a soundtrack to your reading experience.


There will still be all of those books out of copyright that are available free, and can be loaded on any device. Most of the interest from publishers in subscription-based pricing is profiting off of their back catalog of works they still have the rights to.

There's also a large quality of inaccessible fiction that will probably be much more accessible by 2033 -- books and stories published and serialized in the 19th and 20th century that were never popular enough to be republished, or published in large quantities. Much of it is probably not very good, but you never know.


I think (and I am not limiting myself to fiction here), THE book will experience a split. While the medium is great for certain applications like portable, battery-free entertainment that is easy on the eye and inoffensive to airline security or show-off luxury hardcover facsimile prints of the Codex Heidelbergensis, it really sucks at others. Case in point here could be the encyclopedia, poorly crosslinked, voluminous and out of date on the day of print, along with a lot of other non-fiction. I think publications will adapt to the most suitable format for the application. In that context I had high hopes for a Californian developer of biomimicry multicolor e-paper, which came with compelling value proposition to be THE textbook of the future. For scientific applications there will be a great impact by offering specialized, yet cheap communication channels for relatively small recipient communities. Higgs Bosons for instance, while talk of the month, will in their detail not offer stuff to publish bestsellers, but the dissemination of knowledge about them will matter to cutting-edge physicists.
Also a mindmap arguably offers a better and more efficient way to store knowledge than a page 1 to page 459 linear textbook.

With this large increase in possibilities, the publishing industry will have to move focus from being an enabler to being a gatekeeper, curating what matters among the flood of what is available, cast it into a suitable form (and lead typesets won't be good enough) and effectively bring it to the attention of the people that need to know.

As a closer, I recently read a piece by Arianna Huffington about the disturbing influences of electronic displays on sleeping patterns, and how electronic reading devices have been banned from her bedroom in favour of paper only. So there will be a niche for the good old book.


f(bard) = print
f(printer) = DTP
f(theater) = cinema
f(cinema) = youtube
f(concert) = mp3

f(book) .. game? generated narrative (i loved that stuff in halting-state) .. jungian-archetypes as first-class-objects, characters-as-a-service, independent AIs (like in river of gods, and 'the Aun' in fractal prince) ..

leaves me with a hard-to-reach itch about toolchains ..


ISBNs, or their successors, may end up being associated with URLs for versions and/or extensions of a "book". This could be important for linking from one bit of context to a specific version of another, say in a reference to a quote, or a particular version of an interactive data model.

Granted that the Web in part fulfills the need for connectivity between pieces of content related by an overall topic, I think the need for human selection and recommendation of the pieces and the links between them won't be replaced by automatic indexing or other AI techniques for quite a long time. In 2033 I think we'll see a lot of authors and editors acting as "curators" (I hate how that's become a buzzword, but it's still useful in this context) of hyper connected content, authored by themselves and others.

The workflow for publication is bound to change. One way it could go is to become more collaborative, with boundaries between the roles of author and editor becoming fuzzier. There might be multiple authors or editors, with the numbers changing over the course of writing. Collaboration on small pieces of content is much easier with low-latency communications and common tools, especially if you have an infrastructure that supports version control and easy assembly of drafts of the whole work. Iterative beta testing of content would probably be common. And, if existing practice doesn't strangle innovation in work flow, the publication schedule is likely to be a lot more flexible, and probably shorter on average.


and that's not going to change in younger generations until we're rearing infants on iPads, which raises all sorts of developmental disorder questions I'm doing my best to ignore every time my infant son glances at a TV.

But we are now. Friends I know with kids 10 and under basically all have an iPad for them. One each in many cases.

Someone who put away their TV when they had their first is now thinking of buying my iPad v1 for his 5 year old son so he will not want to play with dad's iPhone all the time.


Even on textbooks, my company is working right now at introducing textbooks with a choice of different learning paths pre-composed for the teachers, where the same material is organized under different paths according to different teaching approachs... the teacher have only to choose one of the pre-arranged paths and can use the material in the usual linear fashion... or he can ignore it and arrange a new one.

Once I got to college studying Electrical Engineering we were basically buying collected chapters in the Math and Engineering texts. We NEVER went through the book. We just used the chapters (never all) and in a path that fit the mood of the instructor.

And even in high school after algebra I and Geometry we started skipping around. Ditto Chemistry and Physics.

This was 1972.

Maybe instructors in upper level classes will start asking for an option to have students buy "chapters" and not full books.


until we're rearing infants on iPads, which raises all sorts of developmental disorder questions I'm doing my best to ignore every time my infant son glances at a TV.

I wouldn't worry about it. Every new media has been heralded by the Daily Hate as the doom of youth, bound to cause them to discard "real" learning techniques. Fortunately, we're not still insisting on slates, chalk, and blackboards in classrooms - even then, some Roman would have complained about the lack of stylus and wax.

Our boys' classrooms have "magic whiteboards" linked to projectors so that the teacher can get stuck into the full AV experience; and they have a trolleyload of macbooks that go wherever needed. No apparent drop in standards has resulted.

I managed to persuade my wife that the iPhone3 was a better bet than another Nokia, by showing it to our then-three-year-old youngest in the shop; he grasped the pinch / swipe concepts and started to use them within thirty seconds. Now that we have them, our iPads are very definitely ours - we just allow the kids to use them.

Both boys have enjoyed appropriate amounts of time in front of the one-eyed babysitter. Children's BBC is brilliant; much as "Listen with Mother" was long before it. Well worth the license fee. Neither has been harmed by the experience; our eleven-year-old loves books, and has a reading age well ahead of his chronological age. The important thing IMHO is the contact time, not the media involved. What matters is the time spent sitting next to Daddy while reading the Gruffalo together. (Again. And Again. And Again. It got to the point where I could recite very large chunks of Julia Donaldson's work; she's one of my favourite authors, for the joy of introducing cunning, treachery, and deceit into kids' books)

One game that the boys both enjoy on our iPads is the free Minecraft; because they got to build castles and forts. I bought a physics-based game called "Bridge Constructor"; and watched our eight-year-old channel his inner civil engineer (the little so-and-so also polished off "The Room" quite happily).

Basically, I'm a fan; I can't wait to see how it will all turn out :)


I'm still surprised that no-one else has mentioned "The Diamond Age"; if you recall from the story, the Primer used problem-solving within the narrative as an educational technique (I've got memories of one passage where chains and cogs were used to teach communication theory; must reread it).

I get the feeling that books, like films and computer games before them, will become even more of a team effort (yes, I do understand that they are already a significant team effort, but I mean in terms of the content).

I suspect that there may be some "books" where the Author may become more of a Director or Show-runner; combining their bright ideas and narrative with the delights of the visually-minded. More Joss Whedon than Charles Dickens. Or perhaps we'll see more pairings such as happen in graphic novels and children's books - a combination of story and artwork (Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler, or Alan Moore/David Lloyd).

The question would be whether the tool support for visual arts continues to improve, so that animation can be done by the visual artist, rather than needing a huge rendering team to translate "visual concept" to "animation". We see this where games share a common physics engine, or common AI routines; will we end up with an AI engine that bounds the way in which characters interact with the "reader"/"player"/"viewer"? Will the engine learn, or can the experience be tailored to reader/player/user?

"Congratulations! You have levelled up, and can read Joseph Conrad in Expert Mode!" Followed by a message on your social media feed that you've just managed to complete "Asterix and the British" in the original French...

...I wonder whether it will encourage people to dust off their language skills; having instant footnotes is great (Dan Abnett tried it when channelling George Macdonald Fraser; perhaps the Flashman diaries were the early form of interactive history books) but having a translation programme on tap would make reading the original text more achievable.


Decent high quality open access journals already exist (despite recent news to the contrary).

I was jumping in here to discuss scientific publishing for computational sciences. The culture is growing towards sharing code and data in accessible ways, for research and publishing in open access journals.

The idea of literate programming is old, but it is still around with the idea of literate scientific papers.

Even Elsevier has picked this up. I think they have tried out "executable papers".

So, we might see richer versions of articles that weaving together the text with the supporting online materials in such a form that someone could recompile the document to regenerate the analyses that produced figures and charts as well as have a view in to the data that they can interact with separately. (I hope to help make this happen).

One of the keynotes at SciPy this year was The New Scientific Publishers and he discusses problems with the current system (and then also shows off data visualization tools that could be embedded in a paper, one hopes).

(I still would want to have versions that can be serialized to book form)


I've seen some scientists already posting their articles on github and using pull requests and the issue tracker for review.

The DOI spec has unlimited size, so we are good to go!


You didn't come across the Waste Land app when it was released, then? I haven't used it myself, owning no iDevices, but every review I've seen is very complimentary.

(I appear to be participating in this thread solely in "have you heard of" mode.)


Before we jump ahead twenty years and see what's changed, let's jump back twenty and see what hasn't, just as a demonstration of path dependence.

Microsoft Word.

It's virtually identical to its 1993 incarnation, with every annoying glitch and tendency to crash reproduced faithfully in every successive generation.
My working assumption is that they have produced a fully-cleaned-up superprocessor in the back room and are holding it back till there is a meaningful challenge, because the widespread knowledge of this strategy seems to only explanation for why nobody else has come forward with something much better.
It remains a major drag on any changes in writing capacities, and thus on any changes to final published forms. If you can't write the first draft in Word, most people aren't going to join in.
Oh, and El? You say
"I've just finished proofreading an article for a friend and serious app developer about the differences in app design by age group for children under 6 months, 6-12 months, 1-2 years, 2-4 years, 4-6 years, 6-10 years and over 10. My very rusty Piaget suggests he's not got the right dividing lines...."
Dammit, your friend's work _refutes_ Piaget. He drew up his rules at a time when you couldn't really explore the power of a child's intellect because it was so hard to get output. Now that that's become easier, it's obvious that he was completely wrong about just about everything.
Can't wait to see the article, though. Post a ref on antipope when it comes out?


Miracle Jones has written an excellent series of (sometimes NSFW?) posts about the possible futures of ebooks, or more specifically the ebook reading experience:

While I recommend reading all the posts, "What a Protean Codex Should Look Like and Do" is the most relevant. He imagines the (good) ereader of the future as having *all* of the bells and whistles available, with setting-themed interfaces and a front and back cover display and massively multiplayer marginalia. (All optional, of course.)


I don't expect that works of fiction will be all that different in terms of content and presentation, though undoubtedly many authors will experiment with the possibilities of embedded multimedia and maybe some of the things they try out will catch on and become mainstream.

Textbooks as we understand the term today probably won't really exist; they'll probably be replaced by something more like a specialised wiki, with rolling updates rather than periodic editions and probably an ad-supported or even 100% donation-based model; students and some of the more forward-looking universities are getting increasingly shirty about textbook prices, and in any case the day is surely coming when governments start telling publishers that a certain amount of piracy is the cost of doing business and if they can't accept that then it's their own problem.

Assuming of course that publishers still exist, and in an age when the process of getting a book published could be as simple as uploading a PDF file they're going to have to work pretty hard at that. A thorough purge of Business Studies graduates who know everything there is to know about making money but couldn't do lit crit if their lives depended on it would be a good start. (A man can dream, right?) We might also see authors and publishers adopt a few ideas from the music industry; I don't know if many authors sell out even a fairly small venue doing live readings (although it did work for Dickens...), but tie-in merchandise is certainly a possibility.

Besides, even if the worst of the prophecies of doom turn out to be right, I can't say I'm overly upset at the thought of living in a world where the only people writing fiction are doing it for no reward other than positive reviews.


Humans have not been reading that long...maybe 10000 years and certainly not all humans. Technologies are hopefully allowing the majority of humans to 'upload' in ways that do not require reading. Most of us learn more efficiently from listening or watching.

I love books, but I can only listen to them. Dyslexia however did not prevent me from getting a philosophy degree and a physics PhD. I am certain that future technologies will make learning more efficient, I.e., ideas from one human to another, with greater efficiency then only books.


> What do you think books will look like in 2033?

Electronic formats will be popular. Paper will still be around.

People look at the convenience of "ebooks" now, but my first encounters were with restrictions and DRM in the automotive industry. Some automakers no longer publish service manuals, everything is online on terminals at each service bay. Which would be fine, except some of them no longer make this information available to their customers. They used to make a pretty penny from it; a set of manuals for some cars was over $500. Now, they're keeping the information on closed systems, and using copy protection and dongles to make sure it doesn't escape.

A friend bought a new Audi. Audi USA offloaded its documentation to a New York publishing house. Which makes the manual set for his car available only in electronic format. It uses not one, not two, but three authentication systems, and can only be installed three times, each with two new keys from the publisher. And it only ran on Windows XP. He sold the car about the time he bought a new laptop that didn't have XP.

I had needled him about what he would do when XP was no longer supported, but to him all versions of Windows were the same, and he'd never seen a personal computer that wasn't running Windows. The idea that Windows would eventually go away Did Not Computer. To those of us who've been around long enough to see more than one OS and hardware platform come and go, software senescence is a reality.

Sure, someone would probably make an XP emulator that would run his protected software on a new ZippyOS-2030 machine, but that's asking a lot of a typical user.

Ebooks have a vastly greater data density than paper, which is nice. But the cost is that the data may be lost more easily than data on paper.

I imagine the clay tablet guys said the same thing when people switched to that newdangled "paper" stuff. Yeah, it had a higher data density, but get it wet, and what do you have? And insects can gnaw on it. And it turns brown and crackly over time. Baked clay, that's *real* data that's not going anywhere...


phil.edwards @ 21
Books in 2033? Scarce, ma'am, mighty scarce.
No more than photography killed painting, nor films acting, nor TV films ...
It is *just* that the makets will (mainly) grow & definitely change.


library.mole @ 29
Books with musical accompaniment built in?
Already exists.
It's called ... "Opera"


gravelbelly22 @ 88
bound to cause them to discard "real" learning
Which is why, apprently, Brit post-16-year old learning/literacy/numercy standards are the worst (?) in the developed world?

Source here:


atomless @ 96
Humans have not been reading that long...maybe 10000 years
Err .. earliest "writing of any sort" approx 4200 BCE, first proper writing about 1000 years later [Egypt]
Alphabetic writing, even later than that ...
So a maximum of 6200 years & actually "only" about 3500 years (IIRC)


Didn't someone (ISTR Fritz Leiber in "The Silver Eggheads") write an SF book set in a society where "books" were written in a way and to a standard that meant they could only be read and enjoyed once?


Textbooks make no sense whatsoever in a networked, hyperlinked world with search engines that can almost pass the Turing test. They're obsolete already, their existence prolonged only by the fact that they're something that can be sold, as opposed to hyperlinked webpages.

OTOH textbooks can be used in environments that are not linked to the interwebnet, never have been, and nevr can be. They may not be as helpful as they once were, but that's a different thing from being obsolete. Try comparing Office 2010 "help" with help from an earlier version.


Oh, I can agree that no problems. Mickeysh@ft are so busy inventing "new interface paradigms" and move commands from one menu to another that they've not fixed things that are fundamentally flawed like the tie between styles and legal paragraphing.


I'd see opera the other way about; it's primarily audio-visual performance art that may have accompanying text notes.


That article has the usual problems of news reporting, and I see the usual habits of the Telegraph: they work in a chance the blame Labour (which at least has plausible timing)>

But there's a chart, showing just the UK's results by age, and it's a range of values between about 256 and 280. That's less than a 10% variation, and we don't really have any idea how those numbers compare with other countries, or where the survey set the values which defined such things as "at or below Level 1 in numeracy". The graphic is a classic instance of liar's statistics. emphasising the age differences within the UK.

They say we got the lowest scores in the 24 countries, but that ranking doesn't tell us how big the gap is.

Another quote: "England was the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 performed better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24 after taking account of other factors such as the economic background of those taking the test."

16-24: Numeracy 265.4 Literacy 256.3
55-65: Numeracy 265.3 Literacy 256.9

I'm in that latter group now, and the differences are tiny. And the only thing which can make that claim true is the application of an unspecified fudge factor.

I've picked up a little about stats over the years, and the difference is way too small to mean anything.

Labour, it seems, were in charge when things started to go wrong, but I am not sure there is the granularity needed to pin down dates to identify which policy changes were to blame. And we don't know from the Telegraph how today's top countries compare with the best of the British history, or how they've changed.

Were we ever even the top? Finland has a very good reputation, and their system doesn't have features that the Conservative government here is pushing on us. And our Education Minister is on record as saying that he wants all schools to be better than average.

Numeracy is not uniformly distributed.


ATT @ 106 (just above)
Actually, things went seriously worng in education, long before that, when doctrinal so-called softy left people had a serious down on "elitism" - meaning we don't actually want the best.
And insisted on mixed-ability teaching across the spectrum.
Fortunately, those days seem to be over, so that comprehensive schools can (but don't always do) perform very well, by having internal setting / streaming according to ability.
But a whole generation of children was grossly cheated out of a decent education, in the years (approx) 1980 - 2000.


This is hopelessly, hopelessly off topic, but the numeracy and literacy statistics are tricky to compare historically although they are now easier to compare internationally - although there are pitfalls.

In the mid-to-late '90's they announced a series of international standards for literacy and numeracy. If you reached level 2 in both you were assumed to be functionally literate and numerate as an adult. They've since done a similar exercise for IT skills. Broadly this is a reasonable list of skills, there's some things at level 2 people argue about (including me) but it's not a terrible list of skills to have. (And it's different to being mathematically able and linguistically able and having an appreciation of the national literature but that's another whole can of worms - these are skills to enable you to function as an adult that are globally agreed, although obviously nationally applied. Same targets in France as the UK at the same levels, but different vocabulary for example.)

However, if you go back before that test it gets very difficult. If, to choose a Tory favourite, you look a reported literacy levels in Victorian times, they are supposed to be higher than today. If you try to unpack them and do a meaningful comparison it's basically impossible - Victorians didn't have a standard of literacy that we would recognise on our scales, nor one that was consistently and nationally applied. One of the clearest though, that does match, matches to about Entry 2 - going from Entry 2 to Level 2 (the standard we currently recognise as functionally literate) typically takes about 2 years worth of teaching, maybe more, and while there are a worrying number of people failing to reach Level 2, most of those are solid at Level 1, a few have issues and are at Entry 3, fewer still are at Entry 2 and fewer still at Entry 1.

I haven't seen the international numbers but we might well be in the last few. In the early noughties when I was up on the numbers we were too. But if you actually looked at the numbers, everyone was basically really tightly clustered. You were looking at numbers where shifting 0.1% up or down could shift you from 20th to 5th in some of the 'leagues' - so when I hear "OMG, we're the 25th out of 28 nations and it's all their fault" I'm afraid I'm taking that with a very, very large pinch of salt.


And that would be... where, exactly, in this day and age? You can get an (admittedly slow and expensive) Internet connection anywhere up to and including a fair chunk of Antarctica if you really want one. I think even the International Space Station has the equivalent of dial-up.


The one distinguishing characteristic of the traditional book (fiction, not the dead trees but the form of the novel etc.) is the fact that it requires the reader to create in his own head the world of the book. I think this rather peculiar feature is the compelling reason lots of people like books over say TV or movies. Both TV and movies are usually experienced as a much more passive activity (with much stronger forcing of worlds and emotions) than reading a book. And it is this necessary active creation involved in reading a book that will probably save the format. Of course the delivery system will change but I doubt that will have much impact on the traditional storytelling book.
Adding sound and video and all kinds of annotations will probably make a book less attractive because it interferes with the real fun of reading a book.


Given that you're posting on this site, you already know at least one possible answer. Seriously, there are reasons for not connecting to the internet other than just ability to get a connection.


And if you go back to paper, John Garforth's Sleep and the City Trembles (Panther 1969) was an interesting predecessor of the "choose your own adventure" format, a programmed spy novel in which there were multiple viewpoint characters and scene orders.


Yeah, the assumption that one can "just connect to the 'net" is rather innocent.

The ultimate in being in a high-tech environment with no connection would be poor submarine crews. "Yes skipper, we surfaced so I could update my Facebook page"


I happen to agree that storytelling isn't going away any time soon. That art form has been around for 50,000 years or more, at an easy guess, and technical changes almost certainly won't kill it.

Format? That's a bit different, and it certainly changes over time. One good example is short fiction like Equoid. That story would be difficult to publish commercially in paper by itself. Yes, a few specialty editions will come out, but it's not going to be at the local big box next week. However, we can easily buy it online.

The good thing about the internet is that there's no reason not to experiment. All the different lengths from haiku up to the OED (perhaps the franchise worlds of Star Wars, Star Trek, or D&D?) are publishable. Whether they can find an audience is a different matter, but length is no longer constrained by the technical aspects of binding paper together into books.

Still, formats always change. For example, titles are generally shorter, and cover pictures are simpler, both to sell better on Amazon. Some authors have suggested that chapters (or at least scenes) should be around 2,000-3,000 words, so that a commuter can read it in the subway and be done at the end of the trip. If it ends with a cliffhanger, so much the better--the reader has something to look forward to on the next trip. It may sound like a formula, but then again, a novel's a formula too. Formulas change over time.

Content changes too. For example, the obligatory sex scene is starting to give way to passing the Bechdel test, which is a good thing IMHO. Sex is fine, but it's a bit silly when a mystery written by a nun and set in a convent has to contain a sex scene obviously inserted to please the editor (and yes, there's a real life example of this).

To pick a third formula change, despite the success of Harry Potter, with its sophisticated wordplay (go check the TVTropes entry. I'll bet you didn't catch all of them), the Young Adult category generally insists on a limited vocabulary and simpler sentence structures. Personally, I think this is beyond stupid, because it's a lot cheaper and easier to pick up SAT vocabulary reading someone like L. Sprague de Camp than blowing hundreds of dollars on a test prep class, but "they" have decided that kids these days are too stupid to tackle adult vocabulary without adult training, and are systemically dumbing teen books down.

You get the point: formats and formulas change. The Tale of Genji and the Icelandic Sagas have many similarities with modern novels, but they're not modern novels. The form isn't frozen, and I don't think it will ever freeze. Electronic formats simply favor some forms over others, as will social needs and norms.


Photography left a pretty big hole in painting. In fact you could say it destroyed "painting" and created "Art".

I hope printed books survive - as bounded as a picture, as immersive as a film, more capacious than either, as portable as a phone and as cheap as a round of drinks. It's an awesome delivery system, really. The push for something better which Charlie's describing is parasitic on a digitally-powered push for something cheaper and more profitable, and I'm afraid that's going to destroy the infrastructure that makes book publishing possible.

Adding sound and video and all kinds of annotations will probably make a book less attractive because it interferes with the real fun of reading a book.

This is why you'll want someone working on the platform so that the content is separate from the view.


One good example is short fiction like Equoid. That story would be difficult to publish commercially in paper by itself. Yes, a few specialty editions will come out, but it's not going to be at the local big box next week. However, we can easily buy it online.

It's difficult to publish commercially in paper, but mainly because the distribution chain gags on it. SF novels used to be shorter generally; I'm not sure Lord Of Light, to cite one example, would be up to modern word count requirements, and if so, it's surely close to the edge, yet it packs in more action and world-building than a lot of latter-day doorstops. (It sometimes feels to me personally as if newer books tend to be padded. I enjoyed the second half of Christopher Moore's Sacre Bleu after mostly skipping the first half, and had no sense of having missed much. And it's not a particularly long book, as these things go.)

Even these days, Subterranean Press actually has a sustainable business in print editions at about the length of Equoid (e.g., Six Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente); they're at premium prices due to volume, but that could change.

Photography left a pretty big hole in painting. In fact you could say it destroyed "painting" and created "Art".
I like Clayton Cubitt's phrasing of this idea (in this essay on the future of photography):

"photographers quickly usurped painterly subjects and methods, from formal portraiture to landscapes to still-life, and, having thus freed the painters from the burden of commercial utility, cleared the path for the flowering of the 20th-century modern art movements, from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Performance Art."


To consider what the future of books might be, it's necessary to consider what a book is. Leaving aside illustration, and considering only text - a book is a purely digital object, and has been for quite a long time.

That's why, for example, Turner could produce a painting, and it would remain unique. Dickens, on the other hand, would produce a novel which could be perfectly replicated an unlimited number of times. The downside to this, of course, is that in America, the perfect copies of his books could be produced without paying him anything.

Copyright was devised in recognition of the fact that there could be an immaterial creation which could be considered property as much as a material object.

The point to this is - the issues to do with ownership and reproduction of books have been around a long time - certainly thousands of years. It's _always_ been possible to make a perfect copy of a book.

A lot of the advances in information technology are implementations of ideas already present in books. We've had encyclopedias and indexes for hundreds of years, which have allowed us to perform the functions of hypertext.

What's the point of reciting all this about the bleeding obvious? Just to say that given that the book as a digital object is a very old idea, one shouldn't assume that its purpose will suddenly change. Printing largely led to simpler, cheaper books. A Gutenberg Bible is a lot plainer than the Book Of Kells. However, it contains exactly the same digital information.

When we read, we tend to prefer linear information presented one word at a time. This applies to fiction and non-fiction. We like to have text presented using very simplified letters and numbers in black on a white background. The form of the letters and numbers has evolved over a very long time to make each individual letter as simple as it can be without being confused with a different letter.

So will books in the future have a soundtrack, or flashing hypertext links, or movie clips? IMO, no. The book will be presented as simple text, which will be read sequentially, because that's turned out to be the most efficient way to get information from one mind to another. People will annotate their digital copies about as much as they write in the margin at the moment. People will look up definitions in hypertext about as often as they check the index at the moment. The process of reading a book will remain what it has been for a very long time.

Sorry for the long post - "I didn't have time to write a short one" .


Of course in genres other than SF short stories are still quite common. If you read urban fantasy for example, it's quite common to see collections of 4 novellas, 3 from fairly diverse established authors and 1 from a new author to try and cross-seed readers (variable success I'd say). Various authors also push out an 'annual fan novella' usually as a free eBook but other formats can be found.

If you read erotica, one of the common formats you'll see is the A-Z of ... and some theme and 26 short stories by 26 different authors. Most of these will also write their own novels and so on.

Of course these days, with the eBook, there's less need to get 26 short stories together to meet the needs of the paper publishing industry, and there's the argument that 50 Shades of Magnolia was a huge hit because of the eBook sales. But I seem to remember a collection of short stories from OGH in dead tree format.


The capacity for ebooks to be read to us will improve dramatically. Choice of voice, narration motif (dangerous, charismatic, dogmatic, fatastic, etc.). Possibly even choice of language. Books will generally be shorted; not enough time and competition for learning time is great for all involved parties: teenagers up to Nobel Laureates.


A really interactive format? Not an updated version of choose your own adventure, page 17 if you think the American tourist did it; page 23 if it was the Scotsman. But the systems are getting to know a lot, what if when we click next page a bit slowly it recognizes a bad mood pace and delivers a page of text that has been show to cheer us up in the past? Or the camera sees the reader looking around and constructs a page that gets to the action a bit earlier? Sees us pausing on some descriptive text and there is more lovely detail about the tea room for a few pages. The book becomes for us and product placement gets very subtle.


The middle ground may go away, fewer beach books as books, but just as we have live productions of Shakespeare the book as an art object or collectors item will grow in popularity as a wonderful object to own. Art books can be amazing now and will likely become more wonderful both with new materials, a million graphene page book? But also with classic techniques for the purists.


I know I'm late to the discussion, but as a secondhand and new bookseller I see a lot of people buy the ebook and then buy a second hardcopy to put on their shelves. I wouldn't be surprised if any mutation in ebooks led to growth in the hardcopy sales.


Yes - instead of producing conventionally lifelike paintings for upper class clients, artists were free to innovate wildly in all directions and hope to find favour with the super-rich. Meanwhile, those upper class clients might not have beautifully-painted pictures on their walls, but they could get a picture taken, and that was just as good. Well, nearly as good. OK, it was nowhere near as good, but as soon as the technology developed it would be, and even in its primitive form it had some qualities the old paintings couldn't match...

I'd rather not see books go down that route. And if they do, I reserve the right to stand on the sidelines being disapproving.


Will post reference - but it will be in a UI design journal not a child development one. If you want some ideas you might like to skim over that way. I don't read the journals myself but will try to get some references for you (I'm basically a programmer these days, with a background as an adult educator, but I do a mean line in proof reading and I play with app design so I wasn't going to be put off by most of the jargon) but apparently there's quite a chunk of UI designers using their own breakpoints for kiddies' apps and although the breakpoints aren't quite set in stone, these are becoming more or less the standards they're designing to.


heteromeles @ 114
but "they" have decided that kids these days are too stupid to tackle adult vocabulary without adult training,...
So no more reading Dante (Sayers' translation) @ age 9 or "Last & First Men" diito, allowed then?
Or asking $ADULT for explanations are allowed? No more broadening of the mind.
That's both utterly stupid & pathetic.


phil.edwards @ 115
Photography left a pretty big hole in painting. In fact you could say it destroyed "painting" and created "Art".
I dispute any part of that statement is true!
Oh, I see anaonemouse @ 18 has picked-up on this.
I once went to an exhibition, long ago: "From today painting is dead" showing the first 20-30 years of photography.
But, of course it wasn't so.
See my earlier post re stage / film / tv etc ....


Sorry, I've got to say I disagree.

There has long been a divide between readers and non-readers. It's not a new thing. In the mid-90's I went on a training course for something and bearing in mind we were all teachers or trainee teachers, I was rather shocked to find that about 5% of those in attendance had never bought a book to read for pleasure. One person had never bought a book at all - all their course books they'd borrowed from the library.

Teaching adult numeracy as I used to, I inevitably worked with people with a range of literacy skills from the almost non-existant to those probably stronger than mine. They're not a fair sample, but about 30% had never bought a book, 40% wouldn't pick up a magazine.

I've recently spent a fair amount of time in hospital waiting areas and doctor's waiting rooms and I'd say I'm seeing about 15% not reading with no obvious excuse (there's a fair few with a companion of some age who are looking after them/talking to them) and the rest split between interacting with an electronic device and a book/magazine/newspaper. But of the electronic devices, without spying on them, it's hard to tell for sure what's going on. I'd be in that category most of the time. But I'll be reading on my iPad, not playing a game, not on Fb or whatever.


I am shortly going to be one of those waiting. I expect to be reading something on my tablet.

Wish me luck.


Depending on why you're waiting, I wish you good news, a mild form or a false positive; whichever is the "best result possible" for you.


where "books" were written in a way and to a standard that meant they could only be read and enjoyed once

Tristran Tzara, IIRC, actually published an edition of some of his poems printed on sandpaper, so reading it progressively destroyed the text and scraped your fingers. (The Dadaists really had their shit together, no?)

More recently, China Mieville was asked this sort of question and said he expected to see books appearing with alternative edits, often unofficial ones, like music does. Imagine, say, Halting State remixed to follow a different character's point of view. (You can do that with a book but not, interestingly, in gamespace.)

I do think literary AR is a goer. There are places that already have a layer of books smeared all over them, and it's one of the pleasures of books that you eventually share the city with Guy Crouchback or Bob Howard. I absolutely demand that someone chucks the whole of Project Gutenberg into a term-extractor and matches them with a geographical index, then pours the rest into an AR overlay! Had I but EC2 enough and time. Mostly time.

Imagine, say, Halting State remixed to follow a different character's point of view. (You can do that with a book but not, interestingly, in gamespace.)

To put it politely, what utter tosh. Even if you ignore strategy titles that allow you to play either side in a battle, and RPGs that provide for different paths and endings depending on the player's actions, there are plenty of games that offer the same story from different perspectives.

"Dead Island: Riptide" retells the story of the main game from the viewpoint of a peripheral character. Valve's original "Half Life" and the two expansion packs show the Black Mesa Incident from three very different viewpoints, while Ice-pick Lodge' (excellent but poorly translated) game Pathologic offers the player a choice of three different characters with their own overlapping storylines trapped in the same mysterious disease outbreak. (Notoriously, each character's behaviour makes perfect sense in their own context but can horrify someone playing a different character who thus lacks that context.)

Certainly, not every game does it, and there are some games where it wouldn't be possible - usually those where there aren't really any characters at all (or where there's only one, as in a lot of platform/exploration games) - but it's certainly far from impossible, and several companies have had commercial success doing it. (I have a faint memory of someone producing a free game where they player was one of the ghosts in Pacman, but can't currently find it.)


(I have a faint memory of someone producing a free game where the player was one of the ghosts in Pacman, but can't currently find it.)
I've certainly heard of such a title, so it's not something you're making up.


More recently, China Mieville was asked this sort of question and said he expected to see books appearing with alternative edits, often unofficial ones, like music does. Imagine, say, Halting State remixed to follow a different character's point of view.

Was that really one of Mieville's examples? It's odd to discuss this in terms of Halting State, which happens to narrate from multiple points of view already. But if it didn't, changing point of view in a scene is less an alternate edit than a pretty substantial rewrite of at least that scene. The two versions have plot and setting in common, and most of the dialog, but different elements will be in the foreground depending on what matters to the characters, and things absent from one account may be highly significant in another. And even the common elements will be described in a different way, reflecting the alternate perspective. (If not, what's the point?) So having written the scene once saves very little of the work of writing it again.

Extend that out to book length, and what you have isn't an alternate edit. It's a different book, which takes nearly as long to write as the first version. For example, "Zoe's Tale", by John Scalzi, is his "The Last Colony" rewritten from Zoe's point of view. (Or in mainstream fiction, "Mr. Bridge" and "Mrs. Bridge" by Evan Connell.)


It wasn't - it was one of mine.


There's a big difference between re-assigning the role of the protagonist (i.e. the guy with the gun) and having the same plot observed from a different view. The first just Mary Sue-ises somebody, the second is genuinely interesting.


What you (a.harrowell) have just said is that you didn't read my comment, haven't played any of the games in question, and aren't interested in having your (incorrect) prejudices challenged.

Which parts of "three very different viewpoints" and "overlapping storylines" did you find so hard to understand? Come to that, are you honestly so ignorant that you think the protagonist of a game is always a "guy with a gun"?

The three protagonists of Pathologic interact and communicate with each other, but are each investigating different facets of the same problem in their own very different ways (good three part article can be found here). (And while guns are available in the game, ammunition is very limited, and shooting people is almost never the best solution to a problem.)

While Half-life and the expansions do all star "guys with guns", they're all in different parts of the complex, witnessing different events - and occasionally each other taking part in things. They never interact directly, but each one sees (and does) things that the others can only infer have happened because they encounter the effects. The parallel with Scalzi's books "Last Colony" and "Zoe's Tale" is actually a very close one.


I suspect that there may be some "books" where the Author may become more of a Director or Show-runner;

I may be wrong here but AIUI Tom Clancy had turned into this. I understood he was directing a group of ghost writers for much of his later life.


I feel the same. I want my book separate from my audio. Or else, do a movie.


Perhaps what's more important is what will readers be like? The market will often provide what the consumer purchases.

I wish I still had copies of some old SF. Like Farmer's "The Lovers". Or Simak's "They Walked Like Men".

I still have a copy of my college geometry text - Coxeter's "Geometry".

Back to the consumer. I find it "better" and cheaper to share a physical book. Like I prefer a card in the mail to an email. My niece sent me card with a duckling. I tacked near the door. I talk to it.

But there remain avenues today. I purchased the two volume collection "American Science Fiction, Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s". Try

Some books are more than a thing. Think people will replace all their Bibles and Korans?


"...or a shared universe of story -- say, two hundred fifty writers, artists, editors and other members of a narrative production team working together for five years on a mutually consistent and satisfying narrative universe.

It might be that there isn't an informed taste for that sort of sandbox narrative yet."

Arguably, the US superhero comics industry has been doing early versions of just that for the last few decades. And finding at least some audience for it.

Intriguingly, that audience appears to be growing with the advent of 21st century formats and business models. It's now much more practical, economically, to "buy everything" in a given line of comics.


My general guess is that do to various social and technologicla trends, you'll see a lot of fragmentation in the market.

Paperbacks might survive for a while yet and E-Books will certainly grow more diverse, howevever the actual number of readers of anything we'd recognize as a book is liable to shrink.

I'll speak for the US only but our "reader" population is shrinking, many newer immigrants come from cultures where reading is rare (Mexico, see this article, Google The Country That Stopped Reading) or from cultures where recreational reading is rare and frowned on as wasteful (some Asians and Christians )

We don't seem to be making much headway there.

Also the US has staggering levels of illiteracy for a developed country, I'd guess and I don't have facts here that less than half (and that fast declining) of the population if that has rhe combination of sophisticated skills and any interest in reading.

This means that sucessful publishers with good ideas might need to look into alternate formats, comics, simpler writing styles, motion comics and the like. Audiobooks too may have some growth though vocabulary might be an issue. Yes US education can be that bad.

Last economics, I am not sure that in a couple of decades the US wont have broad levels of poverty more associated with the nicer parts of the 3rd in a majority of areas, This will impede "E-Book" readers and push media onto smaller screen, mostly smart phones


With apologies for replying to myself. I neglected a couple of things.

The issue in play is a faliure of policy in the interaction of the society with cultures that make up parts of it. Its not a race issue or religious one as lack of interest in reading crosses lines of culture and ethnicity

Simply , the educational system and "public well being" systems are not that good at encouraging recreational reading in any group . That reading is the real cornerstone of publishing. We've had this issue since the 1980's or before and have limited success with changing it.

Also as videogames become better, they simply are more enjoyable. I used to read three books a week but my numbers have dropped not for convience or cost (I have boxes of paprbacks) but because the interaction and story telling well I play plenty of videogames.

To that last point, more books aimed at "manly men" might be a sound way to grow the reader market. Years ago there was a ton of books, cheap mass market paperbacks mostly invlving male protaganists doing male oriented things. Because of cultural shifts a lot of this is gone and you get fewer of those.I suspect the market is there and someone who was willing to engage with say (US here) the NASCAR/NRA market could open catagories up that arean'ttouched.

Urban Fantasy is one big area and there might bne


I'll hazard a guess that some eBooks will still look like someone took the dead tree version and OCRd it and then ran with the result without further editing or checking.

That seems to be the current standard.


There are signs the "manly men" market is still there, even if some of them are pretty ugly. For instance, it's a thread in John Ringo's writing, with the dial turned up to 11 for the series which starts with Ghost.

But what I remember is the existence of long series of short novels, reminiscent of the pulps. And I can't say I see that. Maybe that is a market for ebooks put out by non-traditional publishers: not self-published, but some sort of branded product turned out by a group of authors?


There will be no distinction between a blog and a book. But the question is misguided. The focus will be on social interactions centered around text. The core corporate function related to text in the future will not be the business of choosing, editing, printing, and distributing it. It will be the business of connecting users to books, authors, and each other.

Before worrying about the future format of books, how about reconsidering the present format of your website? The entire content of your website displays in a thin vertical strip that takes up less than one-fourth of the horizontal space of my web browser (Chrome on Windows 7, 2560 pixels wide). Stop trying to force a specific size and format; let the words fit themselves to the browser.


The focus will be on social interactions centered around text.

Au contraire; reading [fiction] is an intensely private activity. And corporate requirements are divorced from those of the readers: corporations want profit, readers want fulfillment.

(Finally: your advice wrt. web design is unwanted and will be ignored.)


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