Top 5 Future of the Book Clichés

I’ve been writing blog posts about the future of books and publishing for a while now. I’m by no means one of the first, and by no stretch of the imagination one of the best, so I’m painfully aware of how I often tread on the same ground as those who have gone before me (and usually done it better). However, reading yet another article on the future of books over the weekend nearly caused me to claw my own eyes out with frustration (and probably a healthy dose of shame) as yet another bookish pundit gleefully wheeled out cliché after cliché as if she were writing them for the first time. Thus this list. If I ever commit any of these sins again, please feel free to point them out and/or punch me in the face.


1. The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book

This one works extremely well as a headline for a piece about the death of the book, and it makes you seem both worldly and progressive (acknowledging both the inevitable death of the paper book and the regrettable truth that digital books are still books). Originally from the French Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (the king is dead; long live the king), the expression was probably popularised in pop culture by Shakespeare. Always a bad sign.

2. A Lot of Ink Has Been Spilled About the Death of the Book

The temptation when writing a blog post is to make grand statements in the lede. When you know the story you’re writing is completely unoriginal, it helps to point out that you do, in fact, know it. One way to do this while also making a clever pun at the same time is to claim that so much ‘spilled ink’, ‘miles of newsprint’ or ‘column inches’ have been wasted talking about the issue, thereby slyly indicating that the article you are about to write is, in point of fact, not a waste of anyone’s time. If you’re being especially clever you can say ‘countless screens of pixels’.

3. Are Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo?

See also: Going the Way of the Typewriter, Going the Way of Vinyl, Going the Way of Video Tapes or Going the Way of the Album.

4. The Singular Pleasure of Solitude

Almost every post (particularly in the last twelve months) on the future of reading makes nostalgic claims about the pleasure (and importance) of reading alone in solitude for hours at time and conflates this experience with paper book reading and literacy. Let’s get this straight – whether you make the time to read for great stretches of a time all by yourself has less to do with your reading format of choice and more to do with how you choose to spend your time, how busy you are and the available alternative choices to reading.

5. Complain About People Complaining About the Smell of Books

It’s long been a cliché to talk about how you don’t like ebook readers because they don’t smell like ‘real’ books. That’s old news. The newest trend is to ostentatiously point out that the argument about the smell of books is moot, because obviously it doesn’t matter. See also: claiming that the smell of books is actually the smell of death.


[This was originally posted on The Momentum Blog.]

Amazon Just Made Ads in Books Work – Whether We Like it or Not

So I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen that this year, Amazon will release a standard Kindle for $99 or less, making the prospect of buying a device like an e-reader that much more palatable (and possible) for ebook readers. What I didn’t really think about – but Amazon’s announcements overnight made clear – is that for the first time we’re going to see ad-supported Kindles hit the mainstream and make the awkward marriage between advertising and book reading an inescapable reality.

Amazon has been hawking its “Kindle With Special Offers” for nigh on six months now, so the ad-supported model is not something new. Many people complained, when they launched the new line, that the ad-supported Kindle wasn’t worth the $30 saving and made cheap and nasty the very idea of a book. I argued both.

The ad-supported Kindle has been selling relatively well, by all reports, but not shockingly well. This morning Amazon announced four new Kindle models (actually only three): the Kindle Fire (a tablet for $US199), the Kindle Touch with 3G ($149), the Kindle Touch ($99) and an updated standard Kindle ($79). Holy crap, that’s $79.

But the reported price points are all for the ad-supported version of the Kindle:

All three new Kindle e-readers also come with special offers and sponsored screensavers that appear when you’re not reading. Customers enjoy special money-saving offers delivered wirelessly sponsored by AT&T, the Dove beauty brand and Rewards Visa Card by Chase.

There will be an option to pay more for no ads, but it’ll cost $30. Ask yourself whether you’re willing to pay $30 to remove ads from your book. Then remind yourself that you’re reading a blog dedicated to ebook reading that you probably came across on Twitter. Then pretend you’re an ordinary consumer, the kind of person Amazon has always appealed to. The kind of consumer who feels like Amazon is doing them a solid when they undercut all the competition and sell books for less than what they’re worth.

The new line of Kindles is the first time that a brand new shiny has been released that will cost you more to buy if you don’t want ads. The previous ad-supported models were released mid-cycle (a very clever move in hindsight). Nothing about those “Kindle with Special Offers” was new, and so it was easy to ignore what was happening. But these new Kindles are. And Amazon’s customers are very price conscious. Are they going to be bothered by a few screensaver ads if it means they can get a $30 saving? And when Amazon have a couple of hundred million devices floating out there with the in-built ability to display advertising – what do you think those ads will be worth?

They’ll certainly be worth a lot to publishers. Publishers have always wanted an avenue to advertise books that specifically reached book readers. They’ve paid millions in dollars in co-op payments to Amazon and many other stores to promote their books at the front of store (or on the front page of a web store). How much do you think they’ll pay to have (virtually) every Kindle reader in the world looking at the cover of a book they’re selling?

As I said in the headline, Amazon just made ads work in books, whether we like it or not.

The Revolution Will Be Digitised

Some rights reserved by Todd Berman


As Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, has noted in a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, ‘software is eating the world’. Hewlett-Packard, a PC maker, is considering dropping its hardware business to invest more heavily in software. Google, a software company, has bought up Motorola’s mobile division. Dominant music, video and book companies are now software companies (or their influence is based on software technology): Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora and many others. As Andreessen says:

Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago … In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.

Try to imagine the ten years after that. There will come a time, not too far away, when almost everyone on the planet has access to the internet from the palm of their hand. Try to imagine how that might influence our cultural consumption. There has never been a more important time to get our literary heritage digitised. Paper book apologists are thick on the ground these days, and I can see why. Paper books are a great technology. But if we want to save books as a mainstream cultural artefact – what’s in them, not the paper they’re printed on – we need to get serious about making them available to future readers. The problem isn’t that paper books might not survive the coming transition – it’s that the content in books of any kind might not be able to compete with social networks, viral videos and whatever media is created in the future to service the needs of audiences. To survive, books need to be just as accessible.

Those of us who care about books need to get passionate about digital books, because the companies that are making books available now are not. Amazon – the world’s biggest bookseller – could have sold anything. Apple uses content to sell devices and perpetuate their platform. Google feeds off information – but it doesn’t have to be book-based. It’s clear that the passion for the book has to come from us – readers, writers, editors, publishers, agents and booksellers. If we don’t make it a priority, if we don’t passionately embrace the future of the book, then it will disappear or be marginalised through sheer disinterest. And none of us want that to happen.