Whither books?

At dinner last night, I got into a discussion about the future of the book. One person firmly believes that the printed page can be so wonderfully expanded upon by digitization, that adding content (eg., author's editing) will be the "killer ap" for ebooks.

Part of me agrees with this. I'd like to see the marginalia that C.S. Lewis added to his books. I'd love to know how A.S. Byatt chooses le mot juste in her works. It'd be great to see the process by which Chris Raschka drew the illustrations that won the Caldecott. But that's me and I'm an odd duck. The majority of Americans, as noted in the Pew "Reading at Risk" survey, do not care. They don't read. E-books aren't going to change that for them. Nothing will.

I've argued elsewhere that etextbooks will be a wonderful innovation. Why publishers haven't jumped on this bandwagon is beyond me: think of the savings. Create a table PC that allows you to download a book (eg, Samuelson's Economics), annotate, print, highlight, etc.. In short, make it like a book but on-line. Then allow people to download multiple books onto this one machine. You (the publisher) can customize to state standards, or update editions, easily. Books no longer need to cost hundreds because there are no printing costs involved. Easy.

Things like the British Library's "Turn the Page" program are fascinating. They just aren't something I (or, I suspect, many readers) particularly want when they're curling up with a good read.

So whither books? I don't know. I just hope that we don't fix what's not broken in the name of technology.

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