Deck the halls with holly, let the bells ring out, a national newspaper has finally written an article about how publishers are being innovative and driving digital change rather than being driven off the road by 'e'.
Ok, so it's not in the main paper, and highlights just four companies—Unbound, BoxFiction, Melville House Books, and Penguin (Shorts)—but nevertheless I am seeing the Observer's two page feature on how these companies are "using new technology to breathe life into old ideas" as evidence that the 'book is dead' feature is now, itself, dead.
The BBC Imagine show 'The Last Chapter' showed how easy it is to be beguiled by the cult of the print book into believing that whatever comes after it must somehow be the child of a lesser god, devoting valuable air-time to book-sniffing and paper-making, rather than looking seriously at the potential of the 'screen' for publishers.
There is good reason for this: 2011 will mark the year when digital became a commercial reality for many publishers, but it was still a year of transition, when we couldn't talk about 'e' without also talking about 'p'. One was on the up, while the other was on the wane as if like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty they were locked in some kind of eternal struggle for supremacy. 2012 will be the year, therefore, when we learn that this doesn't need to be the case.
Evan Schnittman was right when he said at the FutureBook conference that for publishing to survive print must thrive, but that does not mean that if digital thrives publishing won't survive. It may seem painful right now, but it is likely that by the end of this decade publishers will have much smaller print businesses alongside much bigger digital businesses, but that crucially they will become indistinguishable. Instead of thinking of print or digital as competing forces, they will simply publish into the medium that fits the creative idea, and publish each manifestation differently as a result.
I've come across two good examples of this lately. The first is Nosy Crow's first Bizzy Bear app, a delightful product for toddlers that I see working alongside, not in competition, with the physical books. Will all parents buy both versions of Bizzy Bear? Of course not, but some will, and some will be driven to buy the alternate version after encountering it either as a print book or app first. Importantly, however, you could happily use one with no knowledge of the other.
The second example is Faber's The Solar System, a massive success as an app, and now available as a £25 hardback. The book does things the app doesn't do, and in many ways as a linear reading experience it is much better (to an old head). But that is not to detract from the app, which as an interactive (interplanetary) exploratory tool was superb. Again, importantly, they are independent products, they do not need each other to make sense.
So another, final, prediction for 2012: we stop thinking about this as an "either/or" conversation and instead think simply about what we can do with the tools at our disposal.
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