Imagine it’s 30 years from now.
A mother is with her son in the Apple-Holographic-Museum-Of-Almost-Everything-That-Did-Exist-One-Time-Or-Another. The bratty little tyke is walking round a display, scratching his pimply head.
“What is it Ma?”
“Says here, it’s a book, son.”
“What’s a book, Ma?”
“Well, people used to read them, like turn the pages and stuff.”
“With their fingers.”
And then they fall about laughing a bit like the Smash aliens (remember them?) until they go onto the next exhibit which is an exercise bike and a stuffed penguin. Whether you like it or not, this is the final resting place of the book.
I hear you scream. Yes, I do. From the confines of my ivory tower, I hear and feel your pain.
So, all you hard copy book lovers, here’s the kick in the teeth and the proof. Bookshops are ALREADY beginning to disappear and soon they will be no more. It’s true. The time is fast approaching when you will be unable to visit your favourite bookshop and browse for hours on end before leaving with your precious copy of the latest Bill Patterson.
Their time has come and we should wave bookshops goodbye with a tear in our eyes and try to retain some of our dignity.
So where does that leave books themselves? I don’t mean books in that sense, I mean the physical entity with its pretty cover and nicely printed pages? You know, those things that fill your BOOKcase. The hardcopy.
Well, they’re going too.
The rise of the electronic book
I know some of you are scoffing already. You, the ones who sit in front of the fire with your trusty copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes you. Don’t scoff. Think on this future possibility:
- Bookshops have gone. Nowhere left to spend your rainy lunchtimes
- Places like Amazon are the only place you can browse for and buy books and you have to do it online
- It costs money to store and send these weighty tomes
- Amazon and other companies think it would be pretty neat if we could have the book at home already (eg, Kindle, iPad) and then they could just send the damn thing over to you for half the cost via the digital superhighway
They are going to decide that we no longer need physical books. And publishers will see the outlay to produce real books as an unnecessary expense. Don’t believe me? Think people will be resistant to electronic books?
Don’t be too sure.
Think of all the trees you could save.
There are a couple of things that will finally signal the death knell of the physical book and that is the price of readers coming down and the agreement of a set format (ah, bring back the days of BETAMAX). Both of these things will, eventually, come to pass.
Once these issues are behind us, the hardcopy book will be at the point of no return. Unless the digital world crashes and, you have to admit, that’s as likely as a worldwide banking crisis, the end is, most definitely, nigh.
But don’t mourn the demise of the real book. It opens up a strange new world for us authors, and while it will take a little getting used to, will provide us with brand new opportunities to have our voices heard.
We just won’t be sitting at a book signing in Waterstone’s.
And in 30 years time we may be sat toothlessly grinning at our grandchildren and boring them about how we used to carry around big wads of paper with stories on them.
And what’s inside is going to change too
The rule is that if a thing is around long enough, sooner or later it’s going to become extinct. And this, my friends, is the case for the content of the book too. It’s about to be hammered into extinction and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Your screams grow louder…Nooooooo!!!
But Apple are already talking about embedding extras in electronic novels – you know the kind of thing, videos, voice-overs…I kid you not. The novel format will change and that’s pretty scary. Because once you start messing with the old formula, sooner or later you’re going to end up with something totally different.
A novel that suddenly breaks into song? Writing that links to additional background information about the characters? Interactive forums that decide the outcome of the book? Advertising embedded in the text?
Just as we are all beginning to believe that we have a chance – that the high ground has been wrestled away from the demagogic publishers and agents – the rules are about to change.
You will need a brave heart.
Change is happening quickly. There is another seismic shift on the way. You can resist for a while, but there’s nothing you can really do to stop it. You will need to be adaptable. You will need to keep your eyes on things.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll come out the other side and blink at this brave new world and come to believe that it is good.
So what’s your take on the creative revolution? Is it going to change anything? Does it scare you? Excite you? Let the world know in the usual way. Go to town on the comments section below.