How will we read in 50 years? Nobody really knows, and that in itself is crazy exciting. The publishing world could be a very different place in 50 (or even 10) years, and we can either run shrieking into the woods to escape it, or read too many trend pieces about it. Guess what I choose.
The Economist jumped on the prognostication bandwagon this week with its new essay: The Future of the Book. Every time I see one of these “What will happen to the book?” essays, I sigh. I desperately want them to have answers, or new data, or something to cling to. But nobody has answers, and I should know that by now. But I always read these essays anyway, if only because I can usually find one or two insights that are interesting. Here’s what struck my fancy in this essay:
Unbundling and crowdfunding: The essay mentioned the idea of unbundling the services that publishers provide and offering, for instance, an a la carte menu for authors. It also mentions the recent rise in crowdfunding and the efficiencies of securing sales for a book before it is even created. (We’re already close to this anyway with preorder campaigns, which seek to secure sales before the book is officially available and which are becoming more and more important each year.) The potential of both unbundling and crowdfunding fascinate me.
High-low pricing: The essay touches on the idea of a divergence in the cost of a book–that certain books are more suited to low-priced, disposable ebooks and that others will flourish with ever more sumptuous (and expensive) packages that play to the experience of reading, rather than the act of reading. I love this idea, and I think there’s room for both.
I also think the essay gives us a good shake and reminds us that publishing has always been an industry in flux and that there has never been one sole path to publication. I think it’s so easy to forget this, because we’re so used to the cries of “Things are changing! Let’s PANIC!!!!” in the industry.
This past weekend we saw two historical examples of the above ideas when we took a nerdtastic field trip to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library. The first was a reminder that crowdfunding is no new thing. Here’s the story, as quoted from the LOC:
On August 9, 1783, Philadelphia mapmaker William McMurray placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, a Philadelphia newspaper, for a map entitled The United States According to the Definitive Treaty of Peace. McMurray solicited money for the publication of his map by issuing subscriptions… Once a sufficient number of subscriptions were sold McMurray planned to have his map engraved and printed. The subscriptions were for three-and-a-half dollars—one-and-a-half dollars up front, the remaining two dollars due upon delivery of the map. Unfortunately, orders came slowly and McMurray’s map was not published until December 1784…
Smart man, that McMurray. I’d buy his map.
We also got to take a peek at one of the most beautiful and expensive book packages ever created: the Gutenberg Bible. It was one of the first books printed on Gutenberg’s new-fangled printing press using movable type. I always wonder how people reacted to that development in printing technology–my guess is that it was pretty similar to how we ‘re reacting these days, although maybe with fewer trend pieces about The Future of Papyrus.
Either way, the realities about the world circa 1450–that few people could read, and even fewer could afford such an expensive thing as a book–no longer hold true. But the transition from papyrus to print books isn’t analogous to the transition from print to digital for many reasons (the issue of tactility isn’t so easily ignored). Which, in my opinion, still means that big, beautiful, objet d’art print books could have a very bright future.
Here are a few more book-ish things from our trip to the Library of Congress:
After our trip to the Library of Congress, Jarrett surprised me with a trip to Union Market. We walked in, and my senses were immediately overloaded with how amazing everything was. And of course, I ended up buying (yet another!) ceramic milk jar from Salt & Sundry. Nobody ever let me into that store again. I love everything in it too much.
Oh, and the food at the market was pretty darn spectacular, too. Shall I catalog our gluttony? We ate: a cotechino burger from Red Apron Butchery, steamed pork buns from a mystery stand, an artichoke grilled cheese from Righteous Cheese, a bulgogi taco from Takorean, and a giant cookie sandwich from Curbside Cupcakes. I have zero pictures of this because both my hands were fully occupied with shoving food into my face. Priorities, people.
Because we ate enough food to last us through a winter’s-worth of hibernation, we didn’t have much room for drinks. But we did have these delightful beers that were only $2.50 for 4 ounces.
Try the recipe for these: Go to the store, buy a beer, then pour a small amount into a fancy glass. Enjoy with a side of self-satisfaction.
Happy weekend, folks!