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June 22, 2006

News & Opinion: Future of the Book Part II

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 1:28 PM – Filed under: Innovation & Creativity, Publishing Industry


I thought this would be a good follow-up to Kate's post this morning.

I created a transcript for a portion of my interview with Pip Coburn (The Change Function, a JCS for June). I asked him what he thought the future of the book was given the upcoming release of The Sony Reader. Here is what he had to say:
When we go through the crisis side, I am not too sure there isn't anything doesn't work about the book. The length of the books is a question mark in a society that is getting more short term oriented. One of the reasons the Blackberry works really well is it answers that question of what I should do with the next 30 seconds while I am waiting for someone.

I think once we start to allow, if we do, Google to do through searches and scans of books, the amount of books people read will probably drop quite a bit across the next ten, fifteen years. The number of full books actually read will drop considerable, I suspect.

But, as far as the form factor, the form factor works pretty well. It is flexible. It doesn't break. You don't have to worry about batteries. You can scratch it. Not too many people worry about messing it up. So, I think it is actually going to be fairly slow for people to change.

There is also a nice sense of completion with a book, as you turn the pages. People use the phrase, "It's a page turner." No one every said it was a page-turner in a negative sense. Well you can mimic alot of those things.

I think Bill Gates is right that one of the elements that has to change quite a bit, and now we are getting to the total perceived pain of adoption side, is the form factor and your ability to read off of it.

Now score one for the people who say we are going to change. Alot of people are getting use to getting their news flows and information off of laptops and desktops. So, the society is changing in a parallel way as to how people changed from writing everything to using a keyboard. So, I think that is one element.

The second thing is how easy can they make the form factor so you can easily download what you want. Is it easy to set-up? All of those types of things. Is there a place like iTunes where there is a ubiquity of books - you can get any book that was every done on the planet, as opposed to going to the bookstore and maybe they have it or going to Amazon, and maybe they have it but you have to wait three days. I think alot of those issues are going to play into it.

I would not expect a quick conversion. I am certainly interested in it myself. With the Sony Reader, I expect my response will be not enough titles, slightly inconvenient.

I like my old book. I can take it to the beach. I can take it anywhere. It works pretty well for me.

We talked a little further. I mentioned that these reading devices have been around for some time. Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops bought some of them about fifteen years ago and they are still in the basement of one of the stores. Pip responded by saying that The Sony Reader and these old units probably won't look that much different. So, it is not the technology. What will be more important now is how the culture has changed in the last fifteen years.

You can listen to the whole interview here or buy a copy of The Change Function here. It goes on sale today.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.