“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Wayne Gretzky

The future of books

The future of books

I think about the future of books … a lot.

I study where we are now, where trends seem to be going, where technology is taking us and how people are consuming ideas, information and stories.

That’s what books are – ideas, information and stories.

Sure, most folks think books are objects with printed pages made of paper and ink. Most of them fit in your hand. You can take them to the park or on an airplane, and use them even when the voice says, “Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones.”

A book is an object, with printed pages, made from paper and ink. That’s what a book has been for almost 600 years, more if you count the guys with the pens and vellum before Gutenberg. Not much has changed.

But then there are eBooks.

Are eBooks going to replace printed books? Well … yes and no. Six or seven years ago the experts thought eBooks were going to make printed books obsolete and that everyone on the planet would be carrying a Kindle, a Kobo or a Nook. But then eBook sales plateaued, iPhones and Androids made Kindles, Kobos and Nooks obsolete and we’ve got more printed books than we had before.

Hmm …

So what is the future of books?

Well … for as long as you and I are alive, printed books will be too.

Maybe, when we ask, “What is the future of books.” we shouldn’t be thinking about the format (whether it’s printed on paper made from trees or electronic paper made from … whatever electronic paper is made from). Maybe instead of the form a book comes in, we should be thinking about what a book is really.

  • A book is and idea.
  • A book is information.
  • A book is a story.

10,000 years ago we shared ideas and information and stories around a fire in the center of the village. Then we invented writing, and ideas, information and stories were shared on animal skins, clay tablets and papyrus. A little less than 600 years ago Gutenberg came along with the printing press and now we share ideas, information and stories in printed books. Not too long ago digital technology allowed us to transfer electronic files to hand held devices and we came up with eBooks.

The form, or the “container,” the way we preserve, distribute and consume our ideas, information and stories change as technology changes. What doesn’t change is what a book really is. An idea. Information. A story.

Founder of WIRED Magazine (and so much more) Kevin Kelly provides a brilliant insight about the future of books in his 2011 book, What Technology Wants:

“We imagine eBooks today as being regular books that  appear on electronic paper instead of as radically powerful threads of text woven into the one shared universal library.”

Do you mind if I unpack that statement a bit for book authors?

The biggest problem authors of books face today isn’t someone stealing their ideas or hijacking their information or reading their stories for free. The biggest problem authors face today is anyone even knowing they exist.

Do you think because your book is on Amazon, anyone is going to know or care about it?

Here’s a fun exercise.

Your book is on Amazon? No Worries!

Go to Amazon and search in the “Books” category for “Hardcovers”; all the hardcover book listings on Amazon. Amazon (as of the moment I write this) will return 14,980,881 results. Almost fifteen million choices, just in hardcover! Paperback is even more fun – 34,989,376 results.

You book is on Amazon. Congratulations. I wish you luck.

The problem.

Authors work long and hard creating, expressing and polishing their ideas, information and stories before turning their manuscript in to the publisher (if they have one). The publisher employs editors to further polish and refine the author’s work and layout artists who create the most visually appealing and consumable format for the reader to digest and enjoy.

The best ideas, the best information, the best stories, polished, refined and presented in the most professional formats are contained in books. And whether the “container” is made of printed paper or an e-reader file, the idea, the information, the story is still locked in its container until someone unlocks it by purchasing the book.

But nobody is going to purchase the book, not even those who desperately need and are searching for your idea, information, or story. Because they don’t know you or your book exist. Because they can’t discover you or your book. Because your idea, information, story is locked in a container called “a book” until someone purchases it. But they’re not going to purchase it, because they don’t know you and your book exist.

And round we go …

The future of books is ubiquity. The idea, the information, the story accessible and present everywhere, anywhere.

Searchable and available with a keystroke or voice command. Linked to other relevant content. Indexed within it’s genre and ultimately accessible on any tool or platform in multiple mediums (digital text, print, audio, video). Connected to and sharable through communities. With it’s consumption traceable. Formatted in topic relevant bits and as a whole.

Ideas, information and stories succeed when they’re shared. 10,000 years ago they were shared around a fire with maybe a dozen others in the village. Today the fire we share our ideas around travels at the speed of light, unbounded by geography. Those listening around today’s fire numbers nearly 4 billion souls.

So how do we share our ideas, information, and stories if not in a book? How do we let the world know our ideas, our information, our stories exist. How do we let them know our books exist?

Share your work: the ideas, information and stories in your book, everyday, for free, in the vast global conversation. Sharing pieces of you book, the best bits, via blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, Social Media platforms gives your work to the world. Better yet, these platforms have all been designed for people to find what they’re looking for. That means those who need and want your ideas, information and stories, can actually find them when they look.

Unlock your ideas, free them from your book, share them with the world.

You say, “But if I give my ideas away for free no one will buy my books!”

It doesn’t work that way. When you share your ideas, for free, when you unlock them from the “product” of a book, they’re available for people to discover them.

Know what happens when others discover your ideas, learn from your information, enjoy your stories, all for free? They buy the book.

The future of books is a long conversation we’ll keep having. But this is a good place to start.

Share the ideas, information and stories in your book with the world. You can begin with me. I’ll even help you share them with others.