Tag Archives: Book

The Future of Paper

The Observer has an interesting piece on the future of the book. For some the future of the book is electronic:

[Bloomsbury chairman Nigel] Newton is certain that ‘within seven to 10 years, 50 per cent of all book sales will be downloads. When the e-reader emerges as a mass-market item, the shift will be very rapid indeed. It will soon be a dual-format market.’ That prediction makes a lot of sense. E-books will not replace the old format any more than the motorcar replaced the bicycle, or typewriters the pen.

This 50–50 division may occur largely between genre, where electronic books are largely used by reference and technical publishers. Meanwhile to survive the ordinary book trade will turn to

‘on-demand printing’, in which on-demand printers, installed in bookshops and service stations, will enable the reader to access a publisher’s backlist and make a high-speed print-out of a single copy of a book.

Print on demand already exists, of course: Many of the books you order from Amazon are printed in response to orders. But not by the bookseller: that technology has still to come. But I remember how as a bookseller in the early 1980s we dreamed of that world. If smaller bookshops were able to do that they may yet stand a chance against the big guys. Imagine knowing that any bookshop you walk into, however small, could zip off a copy of some obscure, out-of-print tome while you wait? Bookshops would suddenly become more like a Kinkos or a Post Office: A place where anything can be done. (But then again, the technology to do this in music already exists, so why hasn’t HMV and Tower Records made it possible to burn a CD on demand?)

This all said, the book is not dead yet:

There is every reason to want to see the printed word enhanced by something more in tune with current information technology, but until the geeky entrepreneurs of MIT, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the rest can come up with something that looks like a book, feels like a book and behaves like a book, those who handle such items every day, and marvel over the magical integration of print, paper and binding, will probably continue to read and enjoy books much as Caxton and Gutenberg did.

The point really is that the book is not just a sentimental throwback to a happier time, but a superb piece of technology that maximises all those things we digital generation hold dear: great screen and easy to read in poor light conditions, indefinite battery life; light and highly portable; cheap; won’t break in water (just put on heater to dry); easy to navigate through content (just flip pages); nice to hold.

The other point worth making is that e-paper is much more likely to catch on in other areas before it catches on with books. Newspapers, magazines, journals, reports and exhibition flyers are much better suited to this kind of technology, because they need to be read while mobile (the newspaper on the train); they have no emotional hold on the user (a book is usually kept; a magazine is thrown away. The user therefore handles a book better and preserves its condition). Newspapers, getting smaller as our lives get more crowded, are an obvious target for a digital makeover, since we rarely keep them and yet every day fill the same space in our briefcase with an identical replacement.

In the case of flyers and reports, the ability to share and broadcast the content is an important part of the process. E-paper would be great at this, since it would be no harder (or easier, for that matter) than beaming what’s on your e-paper to someone else’s. Indeed, wherever reading is not a solitary activity, e-paper makes sense: bring an agenda into a meeting and fire it around the room by Bluetooth to other attendees (rather than printing out copies and stapling them, or demanding bring their laptops). Instead of walking around exhibitions weighed down with brochures and flyers, attendees could carry around one e-paper and receive blasts from each booth they are interested in.

I don’t think publishers need to worry that much. But elsewhere e-paper is long overdue.

Podcast: Online Shopping

From the BBC World Service World Business Report: Online shopping

Here’s an excerpt from the original WSJ.com piece (subscription only, I’m afraid):

Why does buying stuff online still look so similar to buying offline?

First, Web sites still use the whole browsing-shopping basket-checkout metaphor, an approach that even real world shops are trying to get away from. Then you have in-your-face promotions, top 10s, on-sale items, buy-two-get-one-free offers, which to me don’t sound that different to your average supermarket gimmicks. Amazon has made some steps forward, such as pointing out that purchasers who bought a certain product have also bought other products, and allowing users to search for text inside books. But these are hardly huge leaps. After all, couldn’t we look inside books in a bookstore, or ask an assistant for suggestions about similar books?

And for those looking for links, I mentioned Etsy in the piece; a couple of others worth checking out are Kaboodle and Wists.

The Moleskine vs The Alwych

It arrived too late for the column, but there’s an alternative to the Moleskine that has its followers: The Alwych.

Alwych

The blurb on the website describes the notebook thus:

‘ALWYCH’ books have a unique strong, flexible and highly durable ALL WEATHER cover.
The pages are section sewn for strength, before being welded into the cover.
The ruled pages are printed on light cream paper, this increases the opacity of the pages substantially, compared to ordinary white paper.

Indeed, they are well-crafted and worth a look, though they lack the pocket, the elastic band and the bookmark tag of the Moleskine. They are, however, made in Scotland, which has to be good news. 

News: Amazons Discovers The Perils Of Browsing

 Interesting piece on the downside of Amazon’s new book-searching feature, launched last month, which allows customers to do a full-text search on more than 120,000 books. The Register reports that it has quietly disabled printing after researchers managed to print out 108 consecutive pages from a bestselling book.
 
As a failed bookseller, I sympathise. It would drive me nuts when people would come into the shop, take out a pen and paper, and start taking notes from books they never bought.