Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Business of Books

Kevin Kelly has a new book out. His thoughts on the experience are amusing:
You too can own one of these remarkable reading gizmos. No batteries, ambient light screen, random access, containing the full text of my 120,000 word manifesto...

Another reason to order this fine physical specimen: I suspect this will be the last paper-native book that I do. The amount of work required to process atoms into a sheaf of fibers and ink and then ship it to your house or the local bookstore is more than most of us are willing to pay any more. And of course the extra time needed upfront to print and transport it is shocking. This book was finished, designed, proofed, and ready to be read four months ago. But atoms take time, while bits are instant.
I've been thinking some of the same things now that my own book has been published by Mercier Press. It is delightful to hold in your hand a physical artefact that you have 'created' yourself (okay, with a little help from a lumber company, a paper manufacturer, a printer, a savvy editor and a great book publisher!)

But a little like KK, I find myself wondering about the future of the publishing business model (as, no doubt, do most publishers). Compared to the 'instantaneous' nature of blogging, writing a book is a remarkably slow process. It has to be, of course, for reasons such as proofing, editing and pre-selling the book to possible stockists. Parts of the process can be speeded up (you can order my book online at Amazon, for example, rather than go to a bookshop), but as Kevin says, atoms take time, while bits are instant. My book will eventually be available for the iPad and Kindle, so I suppose I will have bridged the atom/bit divide by that point. And I've set up a web site - The 2016 Proclamation - to provide the kind of reader feedback and a forum for discussion that only the world of bits makes economically possible.

The question for the book publishing industry, of course, is what business model will allow them to straddle the atom/bit divide - profitably. About half of all Irish adults say they will eventually read books on digital media such as the iPad. But then again, half of them say they won't. And it isn't just the readers. As a writer - already used to seeing my words expressed in 'bits' - it's still thrilling to see them expressed in atoms.

So I'll probably buy the atoms version of Kevin's book on Amazon, though I realise I may have to buy his future books in the bits version only. And of course, if you feel like getting your hands on the atoms version of my own book then it's only a click away :)

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