A manifesto for a digital book platform

A manifesto for a digital book platform

"The future of the book business will certainly be unveiled on a digital platform." Even as some believe that ebooks' progress has been staggered by a retreat to print, Trajectory c.e.o. and co-founder Jim Bryant is undaunted in his vision for the primacy of "relevancy and discovery" inherent in the ether. And he has an exhilarating concept to offer of "a point of singularity," a moment that will not take place on paper: when a book will be "simultaneously translated into every language and made available to everyone on the planet."—Porter Anderson

'Where authors and readers connect directly'

The future of the book business is obviously very closely aligned with the evolution of the format of the book itself. Such change is not only irreversible but often happens quite quickly.  

Consider the speed of reader migration from paperback to digital. Within three years of introducing the Kindle, Amazon reported that their ebook downloads exceeded their paperback sales.

The key factors that aligned to make this possible were the device and the content.

  • Device. A lighter weight, easy to use, transportable reading device suddenly made it possible to vacation with more than a handful of books. And most importantly, the device allowed you to add to your library without getting out of your hammock.
  • Content. Not only were front list and other in demand titles available but also they were available to download immediately and in most cases they were less expensive than the form they replaced

Apple, other hardware manufacturers, and booksellers quickly reinforced the industry-wide transition from print to digital. Their tablets and conveniently accessible ebookstores made it easier for readers to find what they were looking for often on devices serving double duty as an engagement platform for music, video, games, browsing and communicating. And herein resides the biggest challenges facing the book business today: relevancy and discovery.

  • Relevancy. The traditional notion of a book may need to redefine itself in order for it to survive, as competition for the reader’s attention has never been more acute.
  • Discovery. With tens of millions of books to choose from how will the reader find the books they should read?

These two challenges point to the future of the book business. The evolution of the book beyond where we are today won’t take place in a vacuum. Instead, the form of the book will continue to be a balancing act between reader preferences for engaging in content and competing platforms for presenting stories and longer form narratives.

The future of the book business will certainly be unveiled on a digital platform.

Two recent developments in China offer a glimpse of where we are heading.  

  • Many in-country Chinese readers prefer to read on their larger format phones.
  • And the runaway success of “online literature” is a compelling example of how the author is getting closer to the reader by releasing a chapter at time to a dynamic network of readers supported through social media.

The ultimate future, which I believe we will glimpse in our lifetime, is a point of singularity where authors and readers connect directly.

We will reach this point when an author, perhaps in cooperation with an editor or content curator, will release a single copy of their work that will be simultaneously translated into every language and made available to everyone on the planet who has defined their interests to include the unique content of the book.

This is another entry in our series of "Five-Minute Manifestos" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones revisited his call for the FutureBook community to reflect on five years of the digital dynamic, "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response has been robust, and we thank all our manifesto writers. See their articles here.

As we add more in this series, our most recently published #FutureBook15 manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: Liu Nian