Future of the Book

Last night’s discussion at the Commonwealth Club was boisterous and entertaining. The topic was “The Future of the Book: Dead or Alive?” While the panel was firmly in the camp of “Books: Alive”, it was interesting to see how technology is helping keep books relevant; Brewster Kahle passed around one of the 600 first $100 laptops that will put the world’s catalog of books in the hands of 3rd world children. It’s a very basic machine, thin & light, with a screen that pivots & turns so that you can use the laptop as a tablet PC or as a regular laptop. There was some banter around “The Long Tail” (only economically beneficial if you own the entire catalog of the long tail…)
Highlights from the session:
Larson: books are a beautiful form that is a physical pleasure to read. To be a viable medium, they must be useable in bed, bath, beach & bus. For a book to be considered a bestseller, it’s all about volume and velocity of sales.
Gittins: Tyranny of retail distribution.. The opportunity is to provide tools for people to easily create books, tools to enable people to find what they are looking for. Blurb has $14M raised by people who care about the future of the book…
Kahle: Internet Archive is making the dream of the Library of Alexandria a reality; gathering all the books of the world in digital format. Library of Congress has 26 million books; if each book is 1MB of data, that’s 26 Terabytes of data, or $60k to buy the computers to run and store all the books of the LOC. Print on demand is virtually free, so the Archive can give away books.
Gunn: Everyone has at least one book in them. The book tour is a thing of the past– one stop at a major podcast can get you wider coverage than a book tour. What doesn’t work: authors hating the title or cover of their book and losing the energy to promote it; authors in it just to make money. Books are human, as long as we’re alive, they’re alive. “Begin!”

BREWSTER KAHLE, Digital Librarian, Internet Archive
MICHAEL LARSEN, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency
MOIRA GUNN, Radio Host, NPR’s “Tech Nation” – Moderator