Oracle Series Part 1: The Future of Publishing…and Margaritas.

I’ve gotten organized and swept the cobwebs that seem to breed like rednecks here on The Edge. By the way, since I am a redneck, that statement is not offensive. We really are prolific breeders. Anyway, pull up a seat. Not on the couch, that’s my spot. Okay fine, sit. Here, Clive’s made margaritas for all of us.

Let’s get to the Oracle.

Recently I was a guest over at Rita’s World, where I shared what Carlos and I predict will happen within the publishing industry in the next decade. Go on over to jump into the discussion.

Here on the Edge, I wanted to expand on our predictions and share the logic behind them, which we’ve laid out in the Writer’s Companion. These were not just guesses that we pulled from a hat, or even out of our asses (or ass?), although sometimes we find fascinating things there.

But seriously, our predictions are based on our collective experience and a ton of research. Does it make us any more accurate than someone pulling a guess out of an ass? Not likely. But just for shits and giggles, let’s pretend we might just have a point.

Today we’ll look at prediction #1:

E-publishing will overtake traditional publishing.

As we state in the Companion, there are four kinds of books: Reference, leisure, keepsakes and educational. When we discuss reference books we mean encyclopedias, dictionaries, and all those books that compile facts. Carlos points out:

“To date, almost every paper encyclopedia has disappeared. The reason must be found in the implicit obsolescence of these publications. Take the Spanish Enciclopedia Espasa, the world’s largest. In its origins, the work consisted of seventy-two volumes published from 1908 to 1930 and enlarged by a further ten-volume appendix and updates from 1930 to1933. The encyclopedia was enlarged with biannual volumes until 2005, when the publishers gave up. It ended as a 118-volume unwieldy monstrosity occupying a full wall and containing 165,000 pages and 200 million words. The problem for its owner was to find anything, without having a good idea of the item’s background. Trying to find Burkina Faso (an African country surrounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire) was a nightmare, unless the researcher knew that the country changed its name in 1984. Before that date, the country was named Republic of Upper Volta.”

The same is true of reference works touching every area of human knowledge or endeavor. Let’s be realistic. Theories are proven or ditched, phenomena are understood, technology advances, societies change, and there’s no way we can keep track unless we continuously update our references. Reference e-books are not only a logical development but, in our opinion, unavoidable. Newspapers could be classified as reference publications as well, but while they might last a bit longer than that giant encyclopedia, their days are numbered in paper format. They have no place in a technological society.

Leisure books include novels and comics, or those we use, store for eons, then toss out when we run out of room on our overburdened bookshelves. Often we read novels once. Bad ones less than that. Those we like enough to read several times are few. We agree that you can’t replace the feel of a book in your hands. Of course, we might be biased because we grew up surrounded by books. When we learned to read we also learned to love the smell of that yellowed paper, the soft, marred texture of a weathered cover, the sound of a spine finally cracking under years of loving abuse. But younger generations haven’t developed this fondness for a pile of paper. Neither do they miss a dial telephone or having to wash the dishes by hand. They cringe at the idea of writing a letter with pen and paper because they’ve never had to do it. We can’t miss what we haven’t experienced and buying a paperback you’ll read once before storing it away for indefinite amounts of time is wasteful. Once it’s read, what use do we have for it? If prices of e-books level out to be around half of a paperback (as we believe they should be) wouldn’t you rather two books instead of one?

The remaining obstacle for e-books to become the norm is a versatile and cheap e-reader. These are around the corner. Five years ago, most people had a clumsy monitor sitting before their eyes and occupying most of the table. Now we can buy a compact flat panel for a fraction of the cost.

Now, keepsakes will remain, as their name indicates they are special. In our libraries we have books, some useless, others dear, and others still in daily use—religious, poetry, inspirational, etc. These books will survive in paperback because their intrinsic value goes further than their cost or usefulness; they are objects with emotional attachments. There’s always a market for sentimentality.

Educational books are also undergoing a dramatic change. Things in the U.S. may be different, but in Europe several countries are providing young children with discounted laptops. The study books are then downloaded into their machines (with previous payment, of course). This way, the students can move from home to the school carrying their laptop and lunch box, instead of a carry-all on wheels piled high with a ton of books. Once more, this seems an unstoppable trend. And those of you who’ve ever had to carry your child’s backpack laden with textbooks will join me in saying “Amen!” to that development.

What do you think? Are we wrong? I know you all love your chunks of paper and for me personally, nothing will ever replace a worn old paperback, but I can acknowledge the wastefulness of such sentimentality. I can see the convenience of a reader. Actually, I can’t wait until I get my very own this Christmas.

Come back to The Edge tomorrow to discuss Prediction #2 with me. What is it? Go on over to Rita’s World and check it out.

8 thoughts on “Oracle Series Part 1: The Future of Publishing…and Margaritas.

  1. I agree that ebooks are more comfortable, they don't take up much space, you can read them anywhere (because all you need is an USB stick or your e-reader, and can carry hundreds to thousands of books around with you this way) and searching words or quotes in an electronic document beats the crap out of even the smartest & fastest librarian. I also agree that the smell of a newly printed book is one of the most wonderful things to caress your senses! Better even than the smell of a new car, or pancakes in the morning, or fresh coffee… the feel of the cover, the swooshing of the paper as you reverently turn the pages…*sigh*It's inevitable, and like any change it has its good and bad sides, but — like any change — it is something we have to accept and learn to use to our advantage. As writers, the advance of the ebook format can help us reach a lot more readers, if we do it right.

  2. Agreed. This is a subject I look at from two perspectives. As a writer, its exciting. E-books mean a larger and possibly more enamored audience. New technological toys will make any average Joe excited about whatever is flashing before their eyes on said toy. As a reader, however, its a bit disheartening. Its my generation that has had access to computers pretty much our whole lives (I still remember the truly floppy disk) but to me, nothing can replace a book. To me, an overflowing bookshelf is something to show off.

  3. we also learned to love…the sound of a spine finally cracking under years of loving abuse. That's maschosism, Renee. This is a sound to cringe to. Interesting article and essentially valid, I think. But one prediction I'd make, and one 1984-ish fear I'll share. Prediction, pulp paperbacks will become the new antiques because of what they evoke and their scarcity value. The 1984 fear was Carlos's example of how easy it is to manipulate facts in a putative totalitarian e-culture.And before I go, many, many thanks for the Reader's Companion. It is immensely readable.

  4. Katrina & Vero: As writers we'd be stupid not to embrace e-books. As Veronica pointed out, we can reach a broader audience and who would avoid doing that?But as readers, we don't have to embrace anything. As readers we can love our paperbacks as long as we like.By the way, I remember floppy disks too…and I must say the change to USB drives is very welcome.Mike: Yeah, spine cracking isn't a great thing, but I find with really old books, it's inevitable. And I like the sound. Yeah, masochist.Interesting prediction as well. I think I agree with you and I think that will start happening long before we reach the ten year mark. And I share your fear too. The only way to stop it is to burn the Internet. Let's go.

  5. Mike… we’re not getting old. We are. I still remember pitching a tantrum because someone folded the page corners of a book instead of using a bookmark, or a paper (though a piece of silk ribbon redolent of Chanel would have been lovely). Times are a changing. The other day I explained to younger colleagues how I drafted most of my adult life with a Rotring pen on drafting paper. They looked at me funny. The same is true, I fear, of books. We live in the bondage of the Internet era and there are prices to pay. It may take a generation or two, who knows? but books, as we know them, will go the way of the dodo.I suspect it has to do with fashion.In my neck of the woods, young ladies have taken to invest in bust upgrades and decorations, to a point where if a girl doesn’t sport pneumatic accoutrements and few bits of Chinese nonsense inked into their skin she’s not “in.”I’m ancient, my friends. I adore real books, and I’m sorry for the generations of young men who will never know what it feels like playing windscreen wiper between real… I’ll shut up.

  6. Digital will overtake but not eliminate traditional. There will always be a demand for paper in some venues. But it will be POD rather than mass market.One thing I'll miss is when I went on vacation, I often took scads of paperbacks. As I finished them I'd leave them for someone else. I certainly won't leave my e-reader in their place.

  7. @Maria: I don't see traditional ever going away completely. I see it changing to suit the demand, as it should. I used to leave books too if I finished them while I was "out" somewhere. Like you, that's something I'll miss.

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