03 February 2009

The future of publishing?

Because SF writers like to speculate, what do you see happening to the publishing world within the next twenty years or so?

OK, here is my vision.

In 2029, I will walk into my local bookshop to the smell of coffee and fresh bread. It's just after opening time (I won't change my habits between now and then), and only two people are sitting at the twenty-odd reading screens. One has just received a cappucino from the kitchen. She has a palmtop with her and is downloading some information onto the bookshop's system. Because last night a friend told her about a great book, and now she wants a copy. After all, an electronic cookbook is not easy to use.
A shop assistant behind the sales counter is whacking a few reams of paper into the printing machine and checking the ink cartidges, ready to start when the first order comes in. On the counter, there is a stand with the latest in electronic readers, but fair number of people still prefers a paper version. You can have them gift-wrapped by the second shop assistant who is at the computer using the shop's link with the sales database. This program links directly to the shop's account, and pays royalties to the author.
The second customer in the shop is a middle-aged man. He's an author and he's here to check that his book is available through this database. He wants to order a copy for someone at work.
I sit down at another of the screens and hit Science Fiction (I don't expect to have changed tastes either). A list of books comes up, with their covers and a one-line blurb. New releases at the top, a search field and various field to narrow the results.
I don't actually want anything new. There is a book I read when I was at high school that has stayed with me all those years. I never remembered either title or author, but I've searched and found it, based on what I did remember. It has been out of print for more than fifty years of course and the publisher went broke long ago, but that doesn't matter. I order a copy and drink my coffee browsing the latest releases, and get three for $1 on my electronic reader, while the machine behind the counter churns out my print order.
And somewhere faraway in England, the daughter of a long-dead author receives a bit of money or her mother's account.

What is your vision?


  1. I'm not sure about the actual shop - I wonder how long that will last. I can see all that you describe happening online while you make your own coffee. :) If you want a hard copy, you order it and one is delivered - just like POD now only pretty much everything will be available that way.

    I suppose I can see hard copy bookstores sticking around, but perhaps more specialised. I can see the genre stores like Galaxy Bookshop in Sydney or Infinitas in Parramatta still being around, diversifying with models and posters and all that lovely stuff they sell. They'll have a POD machine instore. They'll have terminals to download ebooks too probably, but shelves of hard copy books as well. Maybe.

    I don't think people will ever tire of picking up books, having a thumb through and reading it on the bus on the way home. The question is whether or not enough will still be sold to keep a shop open...

  2. With the rising cost of transport, I see postage becoming a problem. People also like the physical experience of shopiing. I see a bookshop looking pretty much the same as a photo printing place today, but nicer-looking. There are photocpiers that churn out booklets, stapled, folded and all that jazz.

  3. How about a virtual reality bookshop online, where you can walk around, pull the book off the shelf and read it.

  4. Hi Patty,

    How are you?

    i'm sorry to bother you, but I've recently started up a community forum for writers called the The Writer's Chronicle(mainly for those who blog) where we can meet and discuss all that is writing with other 'online' writers. Also with the recent addition of some published author members we have decided to set up a section to support published writers and help them promote themselves and their books - as we all know how hard it is to get published and how its even harder to get a large readership!

    I know this email is out of the blue, but i was hoping that you might drop in and take a look around and perhaps join if your interested?

    I'd greatly appreciate it,


    Emily Cross

    Here is the link: http://thewriterschronicle.forumotion.net/

  5. As someone who now finds dead-tree books far too cumbersome and inconvenient, I think that bookshops are likely to become rather rare and specialised businesses.
    The current cutting-edge of smartphones make pretty good e-readers for pure text, and netbook-sized (and priced) tablet PCs are now hitting the market, making more picture-intensive ebooks feasible.

    Predictions about computer-related progress have been almost universally over-conservative in the past, so I think ubiquitous computers with very high resolution displays (of some sort, maybe direct to retina) and voice or gestural control won't be far away.

    An electronic cookbook that can watch what you're doing and provide stop-watch timing, suggestions for alternative ingredients, etc. seems a lot more handy than a glossy Margaret Fulton book!