You hear a lot of talk in writerly circles about the future of the industry, the future of publishing, the future of writing. What interests me more today, on day "B" of our little hop, is the future of books. Evolution is inevitable, but extinction doesn't have to be. When it comes to books, I'm leaning toward the optimistic side of the fence.
I used to imagine a "futuristic" bookstore where you could have a coffee while waiting for the store's p.o.d. machine to spit out your print titles, download directly to your reader from their electronic selection while you browsed the few racks of second-had print books and then leave with a combination of all of the above...it occurred to me today that I can nix the futuristic tag. That bookstore is here already, at least the download and buy print in the same spot part. I'm still waiting for the chains to install their Espresso book printers and cut back on the shelved stock, but I have no doubt that it's coming fast.
So much for my predictions.
Now if I want to get really fun, we can talk about "special edition" e-books with author commentary, character profiles, deleted scenes, maps and soundtracks...(can you say scratch and sniff books?) but those are pretty much the next logical step, right? I mean, who isn't disappointed when they buy a dvd and find out the special features menu has nothing but the trailer in it?
Stretch a little farther and we get the interactive e-book. May or may not catch on. The visual novel, now a naughty choose-your-own-adventure game, has the potential to become a cross-over between books and video games. And the book itself could potentially evolve (or devolve) into a kind of video game of its own. Technically the two could merge sooner than we think. And don't get me started on holo-decks and future tech. I'm just talking about stuff that's already on the table here.
Will we still call them books at that point? Will there still be simple, bound-paper options left for the die-hards? Maybe. Maybe libraries and used book stores will flourish as the rest of the print world falters. I kind of like to think so. They could use a golden age.
I believe as long as there is storytelling, I'll be happy to participate in it. Maybe it will be different, but a good story is too fundamental to our human needs to completely vanish. Even if it does become an interactive thing. If it does, I think movies will go down before books. Video games will absorb film long before they eat print. (just my guess, but the two are so close already, it seems like an easier conquest)
Still, movies didn't kill books, did they? Video games haven't consumed movies yet. Maybe we have a little time. Maybe future generations will still read...even if they don't know how to write in cursive. (that one was for my mom.)
I'm even more curious about the possibilities I've missed. Can you see a future book that blends the above or brings in something completely outside of our current storytelling delivery systems? What about dream-style story incubation? Who's volunteering to beta-test that one? If we're going to the stars in hyper sleep, or some such, maybe there's a market for stories you can download straight to the sleeping brain.
I want to "read" the Martian Chronicles on the way to Mars. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of a book launch, doesn't it?