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The New Book: An Interactive, Networked Gathering Place

Writing in Humanities magazine, a bimonthly review published by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Steve Moyer has taken a detailed look at the future of books and of the act of reading itself.

The article is very long and well-referenced, so I'll just try and convey a few relevant tidbits:

  • Quoting Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of Book, who has received grants from the NEH, "Reading and writing have always been social activities, but that fact tends to be obscured by the medium of print." Stein's open-source software product, CommentPress, allows readers to comment online in the margins of e-Books.
  • "Any author wishing to work in the public eye can post the progress of his manuscript, and use CommentPress as a sidebar application to take commentary, direction, even argument from readers."
  • "The book...may or may not be replaced, but the digital revolution is, indeed, transforming the way we read."
  • And, quoting Stein again: ""A new-school author is somebody whose commitment is to engage with readers in the context of subject matter...Authors are about to learn what musicians have already learned, which is, they're going to get paid to show up, whether it's at a speaking gig at a university or on a page of their book."
  • "The book itself, though, has not been surpassed by another technology. Like the piano it is perfect as it is. But we have also become very good at producing books and more books, to the point where libraries become overcrowded and librarians overwhelmed."
  • "The digital book, with its innumerable entryways becomes a work that is never finished but always in progress, providing a whole new space for writers, readers, and publishers." in other words, a place for people to gather and interact."
So, under this vision, the content may be free or paid but it is the conversation that really matters -- and people will pay for the community features, i.e., for the right to participate on the page. There is a lot more in the article, including additional implications for those considering the business issues involved in the evolution of books, so to read the entire piece, please go here.

Thanks to Lindsey Mikal at NEH.
One of my recent posts on the future of book publishing: Amazon, the Kindle and the Future of all Books.

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