Who will determine the future of the book? Readers? Writers? Publishers? Educators? Technologists? The discombobulated west, or confident emerging markets? Existing trends, or behaviours that haven't yet come to light? Selecting this month's winner of The Bookseller's Essay Competition was a very tough call, because each of the shortlisted entries took a very different approach. Every one doubled in richness and relevance when read alongside the rest.
Our initial instinct was to reward those essays that grappled with the question of the 'future book' most directly. One entrant's vision, complete with diagrams, of how digital tech might help us browse, search, store and retrieve a book's information in a way that better fits modern lifestyles, was refreshingly concrete. Others dramatised vivid futures in which cloud-based novels evolve with the emotional state of their readers, super-personalised set texts are designed to engage apathetic schoolboys, and poetry is enhanced with voice-activated multimedia content.
We also relished some detailed analyses of current trends, highlighting innovative contemporary projects and perspectives such as John Branch's 'Snowfall', Frank Chimero's 'What Screens Want' and the success of China Mobile's reading platform.
But time and again, we couldn't stop ourselves from bringing up the thesis of 'A-Bomb' as a challenge to, or clarification of, every other idea. By subverting the many traditional divisions of publishing in favour of a simple yet profound dichotomy based on a book's storytelling DNA, Simon Appleby's essay blows apart the tangled assumptions inherent in so many 'future book' discussions. It also points the way towards a deeply disruptive but exciting future where the skillsets and passions of industry professionals can be deployed in a more effective way, rather than peddling an impossible dystopia where every author needs to become a Twitter whore as well as an introverted genius, and every agent is expected to find the next Seamus Heaney as well as negotiate global rights for an immersive Google Glass ARG. Sure, there should, and will be, overlap; but this at least gives us a new shared language from which to start.
Ultimately, we found Simon's essay to the best catalyst for a fruitful discussion between a bunch of people with very different obsessions and agendas. So please, use it as a conversation starter. Love it or hate it, introduce it to your own colleagues, friends and online networks, and then report back. Innovation only emerges by argument; we believe that 'A-Bomb' supplies one excellent opening shot.
The Essay is a regular competition run by The Bookseller, inviting people across the trade to share their ideas on industry matters. This month's winner was selected by Bookseller editor Philip Jones, Profile Books digital publishing director Michael Bhaskar, writer and digital editor Molly Flatt, Faber Academy communications manager Ian K Ellard and Curtis Brown agent Karolina Sutton.