Amplified 2008 :: The Future of the Book

Amplified 2008

Amplified 2008, a ‘network of networks’ event bringing together entrepreneurs, creatives, digital media practitioners, and geeky types, was held from 4-8pm on Thursday, 27th November 2008 at NESTA’s offices by Chancery Lane. NESTA did a great job of hosting the event, also providing much-needed refreshments throughout. Amplified 2008 attracted around 200 attendees, followed an unconference format, and covered a wide range of topics, some of which are summarised on the Amplified Wiki. Congratulations to @sleepydog @joannejacobs @DT @loudmouthman and @sizemore on bringing together such a diverse range of people and stimulating some great discussions.

A session of interest to me — as an obsessive reader who absorbs fiction/non-fiction in any form readily available while also collecting first edition children’s books and so appreciates the book as fetish object — was the ‘Future of the Book’ session that had stimulated some debate on Annie Mole’s Going Underground blog, and has been a topic of interest in pop culture for decades, it seems. I’ve posted my notes from the session, below, which I hope might be of interest. Below these notes I’ve also made some suggestions for the dream eReader which it would be fantastic to have your ideas about, perhaps we can send these ideas to a mobile lab so they might start producing the types of eReaders we’d like to use (and not in pink)!

The Future of the Book (rough notes)

Held By: Annie Mole, Billy Abbott, Chris Meade
Details: 4.30-5.10pm session in T2 @ NESTA

Future of the Book :: Introduction & Overview
Annie Mole
Muppets from Space ipod

Annie sees many reading on the tube each day, wonders if people will be reading differently in 5 years. In November 2005 saw her first eReader (size of the Asus Eee) and yet she’s still not seeing many people with eReaders on the tube. She believes the eReader-centric reading future may not be quite as near as 5 years away. We’re used to seeing scary titles such as ‘The Death of the Book’ (“Publishers are braced for the slow death of the book”, February 13, 2008, Times Online) – often there’s a book vs eReader discussion where it’s considered one will die and the other survive – why can’t they co-exist?

Beyond Borders movie Phillip Pullman currently protesting against a school librarian being surplus to requirements – this has stimulated debate. Whatever happens to books, we still need guides around libraries – in Annie’s blog comments on this topic a contributor made the point that “a library without a librarian is like an internet without search engines”. You can’t make sense of that much information without having someone to guide you through it.

Consuming Books – does the device matter? As long as people continue to read, that’s the primary concern, whatever device they use to read? Whatever you may think about the Richard&Judy bookclub, it’s managed to get more people reading than many similar initiatives in this country (as has its inspiration, Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club internationally).

Entertainment on the move (books versus movies versus gaming) – much discussion is around portability of our entertainment on the move, not necessarily about books. There’s no reason that future media can’t incorporate story-rich elements, for example, ARGs have amazingly complicated storylines, and if children are able to embrace those worlds through gaming that’s equally valid.

Future of the Book? :: Books ain’t dead
Billy Abbott

Tablets with writing on them have over 8000 years of history, it’s quite extreme to suggest books will be replaced by technology overnight. eReaders have only been pushed to the mainstream in the UK for the past few months (Sony readers are currently priced around £200), though for about a year in the States. eReaders vary from Sony readers to full laptops (Asus Eee etc) – there are portability advantages and ease-of-transfer, for example Billy bought Stephenson’s hefty Anaethem in Sony eReader format, while Sizemore has shown him graphic novels on the iPhone. Some eReaders also incorporate interesting interactive elements, for example the ‘Blue Book’ (as shown in a YouTube video uploaded by account simonwardley) enables readers to play with the story, when can flick through the Blue Book printed book and press on particular page sections the ‘book’ triggers blue-tooth connections between the book and your personal laptop nearby and enables readers to interact with their computer.

Re. publishing costs breakdown, distribution and printing total around 2/3 of the cost of producing any individual book, therefore eBooks really should be cheaper. Publishers are currently working on how to price these, however the cost of books isn’t actually about printing&distribution, it’s really about how much consumers are willing to pay. Some retailers are using pricing as an advantage, for example, Sony is selling Anathaem for £8 (my note: the only version available in print, hardcover, currently retails for £20). Similarly, Charlie Stross & Cory Doctorow give books away for free ( was given away by Charlie initially) and are leading the field in different models of author-public interaction and purchasing models.

The Future of the Book Think Tank
Chris Meade

Chris started paying more attention to eReaders/similar following his becoming depressed by the idea of books as objects. Books, in Chris’s opinion, shouldn’t so much be considered as objects so much as an experience through a certain type of platform. Chris recommended follow up on points made by Bob Styne who set up the Institute for the Future of the Book in the States.

As we transfer from page to web, we’re moving from the Gutenberg Press format just as the press moved from hand-printed publications. Gutenberg went bankrupt when he printed the first book (it cost as much as a farm at that time). Websites are becoming physical books – we get so caught up in the screen being the big issue – however we have to think about what a ‘book’ really is, and it would be useful to try to understand the concern people have about the ‘loss’ people are feeling about these changes.

Unspeakable movie In terms of the writer-publisher relationship – there is a new model emerging – writers may get excited about this as they progress.

Audience Member: Books were initially published through serial magazine publications. Similarly, science-fiction / genre fiction writers are published through those magazines in short form and then using that as the basis for honing their work.

Audience Member 2 – Currently publishing his own work as PDF and focusing on encouraging a community around that work.

Audience Member 3 – How is Piracy affecting the industry?
Chris – Unless someone is buying a work there’s no point in piracy copying it – so it doesn’t change the issue for the majority of works published on the web, but it does affect larger authors. Billy bought Stephenson’s work but actually read them on pirated PDF versions on his PDA.

The Amplified 2008 Future of the Book session provided a great overview with interesting insights into the various issues facing publishers and consumers of eBooks, and was supplemented by some wonderful photos from Annie Mole, documenting reading habits she’s observed on the London Underground.

The Perfect eReader

Further to the great discussion stimulated by the above session and previous posts on Going Underground, I’d like to contribute a starter wishlist for characteristics of the Perfect eReader (you know, kinda like Penny’s Computer Book in Inspector Gadget) – sure I’ve missed many useful features, all contributions welcomed:

  • Ruggedised (eg. a plastic enclosure option similar to those already available for those who go sailing, for bathtime reading)
  • Light
  • Flexible
  • Have a screen that opens like a book in the middle of a phone
  • Adjustable to suit backlighting preferences etc.
  • Instant-opening of eBooks, as we’ll wait only a few seconds for files to open
  • Annotatable
  • Universal format and DRM-free (eg. PDF)
  • Cheaper than real books as distribution costs so low
  • Content accessible to kids in developing countries – focus on linking OLPC, Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg etc.
  • Don’t want to separate them from other devices – make the reader either an add-on device for existing phones or build into phones
  • Possibly enable people to share annotated versions simultaneously so all can share ideas and comment on each other’s point sharinginfo. Ideally a virtual mobile library connected to friends, with friends checking out annotated versions of each others books, imagine the insights shared. This could be started quite readily with a mobile-friendly site linking to out-of-copyright books from Project Gutenberg) that would be fantastic.

My Last Love psp

As I previously commented at Annie Mole’s Going Underground blog, this topic really isn’t an issue that affects a great proportion of the population at present, however if those in undeveloped countries continue as previously, moving straight to mobile devices (skipping PCs) and absorbing their personal information requirements in that form, with those in developed countries similarly move to smaller and smaller OLPC/Asus Eee style laptops before similarly skipping to amped-up PDAs for day-to-day information needs, then it does seem to be the direction we’re moving in. Many don’t mind how information is delivered, as long as it’s accessible – and books beat most formats for one-to-many efficiency (save text files & MP3 for those of us who don’t mind consuming our info. electronically) — what with books being sold without chains&padlock or ‘this book will self-destruct within a month of reading it’ DRM bombs as most eBook/non-MP3 format publications are currently sold to the few of us who put up with their rubbish.

Dirty Harry In any case, only 57% of UK homes currently have broadband (as of earlier this year), presumably it’s mostly those with broadband who bother with eBooks/audio versions (save those who still use CD walkmans), so until we start sorting out mobile phone screens & delivering Project Gutenberg out-of-copyright text through cross-platform readers, around 40% of the UK population won’t find electronic formats very useful at all – perhaps this is exactly what we need to do…

2 thoughts on “Amplified 2008 :: The Future of the Book

  1. Cesar Moves

    This Blog reminds me the reason I like bloging so much, the interaction is very important with readers and you guys have it right. Looks great too, will be back for more posts, David the mover.


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