Future Books and Dead Authors

Bibliophiles fear the impending death (or serious decline) of the printed book. We fear the often transitory and that the trivial nature of much web content and alleged reduction in attention spans will make long-form fiction and non-fiction less attractive. Even if we tentatively embrace the shift from paper to ebook, we sense perhaps that the very form itself is somehow obsolescent.

The Institute for the Future of the Book addresses these issues in a direct and engaging way, without the dispiriting jargon that accompanies much discussion on this topic. They pretty much skip over the current pallid ebook format and envisage a future embedded into the browser, with the book analogue of the future richly linked to the surrounding intellectual/cultural milieu.

How this kind of project could be monetised is anyone's guess. As Samuel Johnson said, only a fool writes for nothing, so the publisher/author/author collective of the future will have to create a fiscal model that actually works, along with some protection of intellectual property.

According to Bob Stein of the Institute, "we’ve developed a much more sophisticated understanding of truth – it is something each one of us constructs from various perspectives. In the future we won’t be as interested in one person’s synthesis." I think he is talking about the death of the author, and on that point, I think he is wrong. The strength and unity that one person can bring to a piece of fiction or non-fiction will always be attractive and distinctive. Even artforms that require a virtual army of people to execute, such as stage and cinema usually have their seed in one person's vision.