Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Future of Books

My husband and I had a really interesting conversation the other day on the train into Boston. We were discussing the future of books and what they might look like in a few years. When I was working in publishing straight out of college, we had our annual meeting where the President of the US division came and updated us on how all the different houses were doing. He then scared the shit out of us by announcing that in 5 years (that'd be this year, by the way), everything in publishing was going to change.

At the time this totally freaked me out. Coming out of college, it seemed like everything in my life was changing and the thought of books changing on top of everything else was a lot to handle.

Things are different now. I think about the environment and also what changes in the industry could do for aspiring authors like myself. Electronic books would be cheaper to produce. They wouldn't waste paper. Publishers could take more risks on unknown authors. These reasons make me more open to the idea of electronic books becoming more widespread.

But what about the feel of cracking open a book? The smell of an old book? What about my dream library with the built in bookshelves, leather club chairs, Tiffany lamps and--of course--the ladder?

And what about bookstores!?!?!?!

Okay, here is my solution to that problem: books don't go away. Instead, they become specialty items. They become the kind of books that book lovers dream of: marble paper, leather cover, embossed title...They become works of art. And in order for someone like me (re: unpublished) to have my work printed in one of these beautiful books I have to earn it. I have to prove with my electronic sales and my fan base that it would be worth it to invest in it. Bookstores would be filled with these works of art. And at home or on the train or in line at the coffee shop, readers could be buying really cheap electronic books from unknown authors. They would take a chance on them because it will cost so little money. Sort of like itunes.

We were congratulating ourselves on this idea until my husband asked, "What about ads?" He suggested that perhaps for unknown authors, publishers could reduce costs even more by including ads in those downloads. Maybe there could be an ad between chapters. That wouldn't be so bad. The ads could be targeted to the audience, too. For example, chic lit books could advertise Manolos and sales at Saks.

Or, my husband pointed out, the ads could be book previews from the publisher for other forthcoming titles. I'm a huge fan of the book preview. And not the stupid, static ones that some publishers put out. You know, the ones where they just pan up and down the cover and think they are fooling us. But this isn't Reading Rainbow and we're all grown up now. No, book previews need to hire unknown actors (thereby helping out the newbies in that industry as well) to act out brief scenes. If books are going to compete with movies, TV, Hulu, YouTube, etc. then they need to step up their game with something visual to get peoples' attention.

I'm pretty much convinced that I've solved the puzzle that is the publishing industry. Got any genius ideas of your own you want to share?

Edit: Just an hour or so after I posted, I discovered the site for Green Apple Books, which features book "commercials" for their book of the month!

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