IDEO has mocked up the future of the book, where reading gets three new twists: informational layers (the “Nelson” prototype above), social connectivity (“Coupland”), or narrative interactivity (“Alice”). While it should be no surprise the convergence of words and tablets will open up possibilities, what’s most interesting is the probable impact on the publishing industry — soon to be replaced by micropublishing.
You see, today publishing is hard and risky, with every book an unknown start-up business model, so the boys in Manhattan make money by promising to remove that friction. But what happens when friction disappears? Anyone in the future will be able to write and publish books using almost-free tools such as Apple Pages to whip up layouts and then email, Twitter, text or signal-share it to the masses. Big-city publishing houses that once vetted authors, forced them to shill through their networks to sell the minimum amount of books to get to $100,000 in break-even revenue, will fade as your son learns to publish professional views on the final Hogwarts twist to his friends in 6th grade via $99 iPads. Write. Layout. Send. You’re done.
Information wants to make money
Of course this means clutter, fragmentation, the PDF version of a million Wikipedia pages. Cheaper access will create a groundswell of new content inventory 10,000x more than that on today’s Web. The pressure on publishing will accelerate, because old third-party ad models that paid for some editorial gates (once called “magazines” and “newspapers”) will be small compared to the wordsmith tide. There aren’t enough advertising budgets in the world to fill all that space even at 5-cent CPMs. Advertising will still work, but only in subsets of the content, the Super Bowl/Harry Potter hits of the world that ride the Pareto power laws above the long tail of mass self-proclamation.
The twist is that individual writers, unlikely to scale to Rowlingesque masses in this new sea of content, may start charging more for their own work to the few who are interested. When content/writer/video/photo producers hunger to make money and marketing can’t subsidize the costs, the creators will want a greater slice of publishing pie. Books will still cost money, but perhaps you’ll pay it to the close circle of friends who write what you want.
Micropublishing will arrive because in a world of perfect informational networks, the closest distance between two nodes is a straight line. Tablets, beam away.