Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Digital Bookshelf

In 2011, books are designed to be judged by their covers. We enter bookstores mainly to browse, soak in ideas, and find inspiration. Our books of choice need to jump off the shelf. Bright colors, action shots, and bold text excite us in our entertainment-filled world. Unfortunately, digital books don't come with display copies to impress people we know.

Craig Mod writes in his article, "Post-Artifact Books & Publishing: Digital's effect on how we produce, distribute and consume content" that digital tools and connectivity make books less permanent. The once hardbound, carefully designed and endlessly edited copies are now becoming malleable, spontaneously written, and too easy to produce:

When someone says ‘book’ this is what we think of (but, curiously, we may be one of the last generations to think this). A very specific physicality. We imagine the thick cover. The well defined interior block. We feel the permanence of the object. Inside, the words are embedded in the paper. What’s printed there today will be the same stuff tomorrow. It’s reliable.

With digital, these qualities of printed books listed above become artificial. There is no thick cover constraining length. There are no additional printing costs for color. There is no permanence: the once sacred, unchanging nature of the text is sacred no longer. Updating digital text is trivially easy. When you look at the same digital book tomorrow, it may very well be different from the version you read today.

A great many texts are held sacred from religion to science to philosophy. Now we must cope with our strongest held beliefs being challenged, remixed, and transformed digitally before our eyes. The ideas we adopted to shape our identities, the very permanent texts we proudly display on our shelves are losing their intrinsic value. We are left with an aesthetic value.

Marketing and business advice guru, Seth Godin, said in this interview on the website The Rise to the Top about the bookstore of the future: "A souvenir shop for smart people, that's what bookstores are going to become." I think physical and digital books will both become souvenirs as information will be everywhere, but at least we can decorate our homes with the former.

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