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What Will Books of the Future Look Like?

September 27, 2009

If you could follow in the footsteps of ABC’s new show, FlashForward, and find yourself reading a book in 6 years, what will it look like?

Perhaps more importantly, what do you want it to look like?

Will it have pages made of paper like most books? Will it be a tablet like the Kindle? Or some combination of the two?

Many people read books to escape. Not necessarily run away from the real world, but moreso to see through another’s eyes for a little while. What could be done to books to enhance escapism?

Think about those scratch-and-sniff books we read as children. How innovative was that? Those little smelly stickers added a new dimension to kid’s books. If you’re reading about hot cocoa, why shouldn’t you smell it as well?

And what about Dan Brown (bless his heart)? He includes ciphers in his books to include the reader in the mystery. What if you actually had to solve the cipher to continue reading? Would that be frustrating or immersive?

I have a running list of ideas that I have for the future of books, but I’m more interested in hearing yours. If you have the next big idea and are afraid of it being stolen, you have nothing to fear. It’s your idea and if you have the gumption to pursue it, you will.

I believe that TypeTribe will be a part–possibly a big part–of the future of publishing. So tell me, what will books of the future look like?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Red permalink
    September 28, 2009 4:48 pm

    I completely agree with Cara’s analysis. But you really opened up a can of worms with me.

    The question becomes can you break the experience of reading apart from the medium that you use?

    I suspect your meaning of “books” hovers around “the in-depth engagement of a textual body of words for the purpose of entertainment or education.” One would think that because of this, your medium is independent of the intended experience (because you can do that in a magazine in the same way as you can a paperback or hardbound book, or a kindle etc). The key is that you’re engaging textual words.

    HOWEVER, if you follow the concept that “the medium is the message,” (Marshall McLuhan) then the changes in media technology will have an impact on the engager’s interpretation of the body of work. Subtly, I can read a book, or listen to the same words on audiobook and engage them in entirely different ways. To a lesser extent, but still present, reading a piece on a Kindle is a different experience than reading a mass market paperback. Is this still a book?

    I think the biggest impact that we will see is the same that we are seeing in all media (from blogs and internet magazines to You Tube and ITunes). It’s a result of the first word-processors, preloaded on your home computer, devaluing Gutenberg’s presses and Hearst’s monopolies. Anyone can put words onto a page and disseminate it. The more technology we have, it seems the more ways we can disseminate it.

    So as our “Free Market” of publishing evolves, what will be most useful will be the search engines and reliable word of mouth to help readers wade through the soul-sucking wastes of bad writing to find the quality writing that exists.

    As for scratch & sniff books and ciphers (and my personal favorite, choose your own adventures) they are more interactive & engaging. Some readers will find that more enjoyable. But should those qualities be used to determine the value of a book? Under that guise, does an audiobook qualify? Why not a play or a movie? 3d stories and holodecks come into play, but how does that in any resemble reading a book?

  2. September 28, 2009 11:21 pm

    Two very interesting comments. Cara, you hit upon a key sentiment that I share: Books–words–leave everything up to your imagination. You get to visualize who the pretty damsel is or the dashing hero (or vice versa). You get to absorb a scene on your own pace, connect with it your own experiences. Adding other forms of media to books could take away from this crucial ingredient.

    It’s the formats that involve the reader–like the example you gave about pulling chapters out of envelopes–that really interest me. That’s something new, something memorable. And John, I’d contend that it’s still a book.

    Here’s the thing about defining what a “book” is–I think it limits us to a very specific experience. Imagine the first guy who tried to publishing a picture book. Who would do such a crazy thing? You have perfectly good words on the page–why would you taint them with pictures?

    But it worked. At least, for children’s books. The “pictures” of adult books are on the covers, and we all judge books by their covers. So that element remains, at least in part.

    All I’m saying is that I’d like to be open to a future of books that may be different from books of the present and past. This is coming from a person who loves the way books are now (real books, not e-books). But I’m open to that future. I don’t want to turn away a fascinating read just because it doesn’t look like the books that I know and love.

    I think you have a great point, though, about how a big part of the future of books will be filters to cut through all the crap (“crap” being very, very relative). Those filters and search engines and user ratings will be really important. I guess I just feel like a lot of the modern systems of filtering and searching are two dimensional–books have four stars or five stars or they’re bestsellers or not bestsellers or they’re on the first page of your search or they’re not or they’re recommended to you on Facebook or they’re not. Isn’t there more than that?

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