I’m not jumping the bandwagon here, I’m building it. Print books are gonna be HUGE in 10 to 15 years. There’s gonna be a renaissance of the printed book that’ll make all our current hand-wringing look like the motion picture industry wailing over the pending death of movies at the dawn of television back in the 1950s. And the best part about this pending book boom: books are going to be awesomer than they are now.
Kids coming up with these new digital ereaders, soon this is all they will know of books. Oh, sure, the unused library in their school will have their shelves of “research” material that hasn’t made the transition, those titles that have yet to be digitized, just like back in the beginning of the compact disc transition where people still owned tape players and turntables for their “oldies.”
Then one day an author with a name and some clout is going to open shop and start printing fine editions of their books. They’ll pick up some other authors and do the same. Dave Eggers may be their model, but they may look back at the names behind the major publishers and see how they started, as small imprints with a unique viewpoint to share with the world. The hipster kids, annoying but ever-present, will tout the latest new first editions they found and swap publishers and authors to check out with other “booksters.” New stores will open catering to the “lost” art of the non-ebook, the codex, the physical artifact.
College kids will sit in cafes obnoxiously reading from a book printed on environmentally friendly paper, showing off their dust jackets in defiance of all the anonymous backs of ereader screens like mini-monoliths in a tabletop Stonehenge. The movement won’t change the world overnight but will capture the people’s attentions as they realize what was traded-off in the name of convenience. As with the resurgence of vinyl recordings and film cameras with kids now, the book will return with a renewed desire to regain a certain hand-made spirit to the enterprise.
The glut of digital democracy will, ultimately, send people in search of quality “slow books.” When a publisher returns to an emphasis on the quality of the finished product they will be forced to reexamine how they allocate their resources. Digital has already made it too easy for everyone to be published, and the result is a din too noisy to know where to focus ones attention.
The print book renaissance will remind people that it isn’t just the words that matter, but that presentation counts.
The ramblings of a Luddite, a technophobe with a desire for things “the way they used to be?” Hardly. But as I made the switch with my music from vinyl to digital I have come to hear my music less. In fact, I don’t listen to it at all, I just play it as if it were part of the wallpaper. The ease with which I can call up a song and listen to it on demand, the way I can shuffle songs or make playlists on the fly, this ease has caused me to miss the greatest thing about music in the first place: the music itself. I’ve traded the fidelity of old technology for the compressed convenience of the new, and so have you. I traded away making a conscious effort to choose a particular album and make the deliberate effort to play it when it could be listened to, really listened to, consciously. That’s what I realize I’ve missed, I’ve traded listening to music for consuming it.
Ebooks and digital publishing, it’s that same ease of consuming over the conscious act of selecting and reading — truly reading, with absolute focus and deliberateness — that’s been whittled away.
But it’s coming back, to a future near you.