Note — Jan 13, 2019

The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, but It’s Not What We Expected

Craig Mod looking at what “we” thought would be the future of the book and where we are today. Basically; it was supposed to be an interactive, multimedia, ever-changing form, and instead the book itself is roughly the same but a lot has changed around it. The process and industry of creating books is much more accessible and multi-dimensioned. He includes newsletter and audiobooks in his reflection, advocating for every writer (and artist) to have a mailing list, and that a year’s worth of a good newsletter is a book (“take a year of his essays, edit them for brevity and clarity, and you’d have a brilliant edition”). I agree with much of what he’s writing and in large part you can read it while replacing “books” with “magazines” which are, I’d argue, a much better analogous for newsletters and have benefited from all the same changes.

Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. […]

Almost every writer or artist I know has a newsletter. One way to understand this boom is that as social media has siloed off chunks of the open web, sucking up attention, the energy that was once put into blogging has now shifted to email. […]

By contrast, there’s something almost ahistorical about email, existing outside the normal flow of technological progress. It works and has worked, reliably, for decades. There’s no central email authority. Most bookish people use it. Today I’m convinced you could skip a website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, and launch a publishing company on email alone. […]

Our Future Book is composed of email, tweets, YouTube videos, mailing lists, crowdfunding campaigns, PDF to .mobi converters, Amazon warehouses, and a surge of hyper-affordable offset printers in places like Hong Kong.

Towards the Future Book

Carmody at Kottke, bouncing off the Mod piece and considering the noncommercial future of the book.

[Google Books] I think that project, the digitization of all printed matter, available for full-text search and full-image browsing on any device, and possible conversion to audio formats and chopped up into newsletters, and whatever way you want to re-imagine these old and new books, remains the gold standard for the future of the book. […]

[T]he basic idea of linking together libraries and cultural institutions into an enormous network with the goal of making their collections available in common is an idea that will never die. […]

But the noncommercial future of the book is where all the messianic energy still remains. It’s still the greatest opportunity and the hardest problem we have before us. It’s the problem that our generation has to solve.