Future of the book

Recently I attended a taping of the First Monday book club. The session I attended was a special presentation exploring the future of the book. Did you know that the biggest market for Kindle readers (according to Richard Watson) are the 55 years+? Apparently teens prefer to use their iphones! Further to this, according to Amazon, e-books are now consistently outselling their print counterparts.

So what does this mean to the future of books?
There were three guests on the panel, these being Richard Watson, Richard Flanagan and Narelle Harding, each representing a different point of view. The program raised lots of interesting points about both print and digital formats, noting that each have pros and cons and are appropriate in different situations. Here are some of the highlights.

Richard Watson, an author of books about future trends, started the discussion, offering interesting insights into the different ways print and digital books are read and perceived, explaining how this may affect the reading experience.

Does the introduction of e-books mean the end of the print book? The debate is still on.
Many people, including Jennifer Byrne, have an emotional attachment to print books. Her points include the fact that they have survived for thousands of years throughout history and that they are a tangible legacy of past eras. Its also hard to beat the serendipity of browsing a shelf of books and finding an unexpected treasure.

What about the tactile experience of a book, holding a book, the feel of a book, even turning of the pages of a book? Richard Flanaghan, a well known novelist, also loves print novels. He voiced concern about issues relating to quality of writing without editor or publisher intervention and that digital books, unlike those in print, can be censored. Interestingly, there was one person who wrote in complaining that after using his Kindle, he had forgotten how heavy books were to hold and how much effort was required to turn each page…

Narelle Harding is a huge fan of the e-reader and ebooks, saying they provide “more power to the reader!” She feels that any technological change in society causes an uproar and this will pass as people get used to it. She believes that it does not matter what type of “container” the book is presented in, as long as we are able to access and read the story. She also likes the idea of readers being able to collaborate with the authors on the works produced.

The impact of digital books on the publishing industry were raised, such as loss of jobs in the book selling and publishing industry, citing less writers would be able to make a living from writing, which would mean less choice of titles to read.

All agreed that e-books have many positives. They are light weight and portable and you can store many books at once on them in one small device. They are an inexpensive way to read and the font size can be easily adjusted to suit. But there are a lot of models out there- with different publishers favouring different brands, which could in turn limit what you can download onto your particular brand e-reader.

So what do you think? Will print survive along side the pixels?

“The future of the book” is screening on ABC, 17th May, 2011 @10.00pm.