The End of Book Publishing As We Know It

A few days ago, I watched a video demo of the “SI Tablet” (see video below), a new eBook device developed by Time, Inc. and The Wonderfactory. It demonstrates how a touch screen, portability, and the convergence of text, audio, and video can create unprecedented opportunities for content providers. Frankly, it is the most compelling media device I have seen yet.

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

According to the video, Time will launch this device in 2010. As a result, the future is arriving faster than most of us thought—or at least I thought. With the advent of the Apple iPad at hand, the eBook space is going to heat up significantly this next year.

After watching the video several times, I have come to a few tentative conclusions about the future of book publishing. Don’t hold me to this. I may change my mind next month. But for now at least, here is what I see as I peer into the future:

  1. The line between newspapers, magazines, and books is about to become blurred. In the old world of analog (non-digital) publishing, several things differentiated these media from one another:
    • The delivery format—newsprint, glossy paper, or bound books
    • The length of time it took to go from concept to market—daily, weekly, monthly, or several months
    • The number of content contributors involved—one author (or two) or many writers
    • The way the contributors were compensated—royalties, staff salaries, or work-made-for-hire arrangements
    • The financial model—advertising, subscription, or outright purchase

    The SI Tablet and other devices like it will create a new kind of multimedia content that is shaped more by the capabilities of the device and the convergence of technologies than the traditional formats.

  2. Publishers will need to envision multimedia content from the beginning. Once consumers get used to this kind of rich media, they will not be content to read text alone. They certainly won’t pay a premium price for it. They will expect hyperlinks, audio, video, and other multimedia bells and whistles. As a result, content providers will need to envision these elements at the ideation stage, rather than adding them as an afterthought. In this sense, magazine publishers and web content developers will have an advantage. They are already doing this.
  3. Consumer expectations are going to skyrocket. Yes, some die-hard book fans will hang on until the bitter end. But the tastes of the masses are going to shift. I am old enough to remember the transition from black and white television to color. Once it happened, there was no going back. Everyone wanted a color TV. The same thing happened with stereo music, surround sound, and every other media innovation. It is going to get more and more challenging to wow the customer.
  4. The cost of producing digital books will get more expensive. If all publishers are doing is porting text-based content from an analog format to a digital one, they really haven’t added much value other than convenience and portability. In fact, they have arguably reduced their costs, because they don’t have to manufacture or distribute a physical product. But this is not where it’s going to stay. To stay competitive, publishers will need to add audio, video, and other design elements that are going to add to the production cost.
  5. Digital content creation and distribution will become our primary focus. Physical books will become an afterthought. I don’t know when the tipping point will occur, but I believe it will happen in the next few years. You can’t create a media rich experience like the SI Tablet is capable of delivering without thinking about content in an entirely different way. Some people will always want printed books, just as some people enjoy candles today. But we will eventually think of these as “souvenirs” (to quote Tim O’Reilly) or decorative artifacts for our home or office. Most people will consume content digitally.
  6. People will be reading more than ever. This is the really good news, I think. These new technologies promise to create reading experiences (if we can call them that) that are more sensual, more imaginative, and more compelling than simple text alone can provide. I believe people are already reading more than ever. They are simply consuming their information in different ways. This will only accelerate as the devices become more sophisticated. As a result, I expect to see reading increase in the future.

If you prefer business-as-usual, these are scary times. The media landscape is changing dramatically. It’s happened to music, then newspapers and magazines, and now even television and film. To quote Jeff Bezos, “The book publishing industry is perhaps the last bastion of analog technology.” But it’s even happening here.

But I have honestly never been more excited about the future of publishing than I am right now. There will be winners and losers, but these are exciting times. We have unprecedented opportunities as publishers to deliver content that connects with more readers in more powerful ways than ever before. I can’t wait to see what 2010 brings.

Question: What about you? What changes do you think these kinds of devices will have on the publishing industry?
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  • http://teresadamario.com Teresa

    This is a very impressive product. Yes, it's possible to see changes in publishing, but I"m not sure I agree with everything you mention.

    For book readers, I don't see the interactive capability as all that exciting. When I read, I dont' want anything interrupting me. It's rare that I'll ever put a book down so I can go look up more "interactive" activities. Book reading is a solitary thing, and I can't see novel publishers hiring actors to act out the scenes, so I'm really not seeing much benefit there. Plus, the view screen is exceptionally bright – needed for magazines, perhaps, but a detriment to the power reader. It's why the e-ink is so popular on e-readers. I Got enough of a headache watching James Cameron's new movie. I don't want to get one when I read. Now if the new SI has the ability to turn on or off the E-ink, now THAT would make this exciting to the power reader. Turn it on for ebooks, turn it off for the magazines. But it would have to be a simple interface/touch to do that, otherwise, it won't work. Or, perhaps an auto sensor inside, if there's no interactive content, to switch to e-ink, and vice versa.

    The ability to have interactive content for mags and newspapers is great. But… I'm not a mag/newspaper reader. Would I become one with this? Maybe. Just maybe. The look from the video is pretty awesome. The interface appears to be simple enough, though I wonder about smeared touch screens, etc. (can you tell I'm not a touch screen person?)

    I'm curious as to the power requirements, and the cost. Both of those could make or break this for now. In the future perhaps,

  • Bethany Thouin

    I am constantly amazed by your "visionary" ability. This is fascinating stuff. I think that it is the end of the glory days of publishing in the traditional book format, but it is a much needed "pruning." There is so much "not great" out there.

    People will still buy great books, probably mostly fiction. A great book is still comforting, still "feels" good to put on a home shelf, is still a good conversation piece, still a great gift, still completely portable, still unable to be replaced by flashy, new formats.

    I don't like bookstores anymore because I get lost in all the hype. I'm ready for GREAT again. Let the hype be part of the new format. Give me fewer books and a publishing company with content integrity. For the love of books, I will buy what they are selling all day long!

  • Bethany Thouin

    I am constantly amazed by your "visionary" ability. This is fascinating stuff. I think that it is the end of the glory days of publishing in the traditional book format, but it is a much needed "pruning." There is so much "not great" out there.

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  • newlife4Him

    So…how is Nelson positioning itself with regards to these other electronic media content providers? How can authors/writers get in on these inter media relationships of the future?

  • Cindy Lamir

    Hi Michael, I love your analysis. I have been in educational publishing for most of my career and decided to pursue a different path a couple of years ago . I was in marketing and knew that the big educational publishers would crash and burn if: 1) they did not change the company infrastructure to meet the needs of today's market and students, 2) they did not create print and digital materials simultaneously to deliver to customers, and 3) hardware was not developed that would provide an accessible and intuitive platform for teachers to deliver digital content to their students.(like iPhone- very non-threatening and no need for classes to learn how to use) Well… it is happening, huh? Let's hope that the big educational companies figure out how to deliver what teachers and students want and need. Interesting times and so many exciting opportunities! Cindy

  • http://nickersandinkblog.blogspot.com Linda Ann Nickerson

    Great post.
    I am one of those printed word die-hards, although I write online. Recently, I have reviewed books online, and I really missed the feeling of actual pages in my hands.
    Never fear. I will eventually come around. (I remember, during my early career as a book editor for a Christian publisher, learning to edit on a computer. I addressed this development with a considerable amount of kicking and screaming – at least, figuratively speaking.)
    Congratulations on the TOP BOOK listings!

    My recent post Blowing the Curve

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  • http://twitter.com/lewismoats @lewismoats

    I love how when during the demo, at the 2:36 mark, the 'Game Alert' pops up on the screen with 'Dodgers' spelled 'Dogers'… SI misspells Los Angeles' team name? And I'm first to catch it? Ha… How did this get by?

  • http://louisbyrd.wordpress.com/ Louis Byrd

    Thomas…man I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am in the music media industry. I am very excited at the new direction content is going. I do agree it is kinda sad that physical mediums will soon be a mere thought of nostalgia, but the idea of being able to read an article on the new 2012 Ford Fusion (arbitrary ex.) and be able to look at every aspect of the car or video of how they designed, on some media device fascinates me. The only thing I do not agree with you own is the fact that users will not be willing to pay a premium…I kind of look at this new paradigm shift as public broadcast—> network cable television…People are willing to pay for things they think are of value and if the packaging is put together I believe that users would not mind pay X amount of dollars for unlimited content or bonus features Great article!!!
    My recent post Media Take Over!!!!!?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremyhoover Jeremy Hoover

    I love the idea of multimedia "books." It makes sense, instead of just a text-based item, to include an audio of the writer reading part of the book or a video interview of how he/she came to the write the book. I've begun to feel that many books–fiction and non-fiction both–could be a lot shorter. Including multimedia elements is great way to add value even if the text portion itself becomes shorter. Even better would be to include a space for comments to create an ongoing discussion between author and reader.
    My recent post Sermon: Be Careful What You Pray For

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  • http://www.LizDavisBlog.com Elizabeth Davis

    Need a Thomas Nelson selection of coverz for my Nook! -Elizabeth

    Ideas: business, whimsical, inspirational
    My recent post PHP Fusion … a medical tempo that makes sense!

  • Gail

    Before you give up on books all together grab one called "Fahrenheit 451" – it will shed a whole new light on burning the pages.

  • http://www.nancyfalconi.com Nancy Falconi

    As a photographer/writer (visual story teller) I see this as an amazing development. I agree with many of Michael's comments and as a photographer I have realigned my business along the same thought process. I was recently reading "Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art" by Scott McCloud. It is an excellent book about how we deal with visual language to tell a story – I don't think one has to compete with an other text vs language, rather they can complement each other.

  • http://jesusofnazareth-alovestory.com/ Rebekah

    Dear Mr. Hyatt,

    Thank you so much for this information! This is thrilling to me as I am already combining videos and pictures with my pen. I did it a bit with my divorce memoir but am doing it daily with my blog now. I am currently searching in how to perfect my videos as all this high tech gadgetry is a bit foreign, to say the least.

    But it is so much fun to do as I love to write and love to worship and the combining of the two on my pages is awesome! Bless you for posting this! It is an encouragement to me and I will look into it further!

    Rebekah (pen name)

  • Edge

    Good article but the fact that it uses a concept device that will never exist shows the author doesn’t know too much about technology. That being said, the iPad does exist and can do all of that, so ya, times are changing.

  • http://www.johncokeefe.com John O'Keefe

    What I see happening is a shift from the Gutenberg to the Google, Authors, Editors and Publishers will need to be far more creative and dream past the current norm. They will need to envision a product that is interactive, informative and creative. Creatives will find a new home in the publishing industry, surpassing their current involvement of simply cover design. I know on a personal level I turned down two publishers for my new book because they desired complete creative control over the cover and content. Now, as I look to getting out my next book I am looking more towards the ipad market. Creatives will be the lead in this next step in publishing. Here is a short list of what I envision for my next book:

    videos instead of pictures:
    foot notes that are linked to other sources:
    Audio that will invite people into the discussion:
    QR codes that will invite people to download information to other devices:
    The ability to comment in real time from the ipad and have it displayed on a site:
    The ability to tweet a section of the book in real time;

    There are more things I plan on adding – but that is a short list :)

    What I have found is that most Publishers lack the ability to see past where they are now; they do not see the future, nor do they see the present. My hope, my prayer, is that they soon come to the realization that in a Conceptual Age creatives will change the way we do things. My worry, my fear, is that many will strive to hold to the Industrial Age and keep doing the same old, same old. But, as you said, if they do they will not survive the reality of a Conceptual Age.

    • Robert

      John, I'd really dig seeing the rest of your list there. It does make me wonder though if the load will be more on the author to key in links, etc., or a "value added" from a growing crew of editors and other facilitators. I suppose it will vary a good bit, but any one chapter could take a week's production work for proper "illustration." I'm afraid I foresee a shift here, with publishers and their growing staffs taking over more of the creative process, and the proceeds, and Writing becoming like Farming in the past century.

  • http://bretmavrich.posterous.com/ Bret Mavrich

    You know, I hope that this means there are tons more venues and exciting new markets for good writers. I like your take, that “people are reading more than ever.”

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    I didn’t really buy this the first time I read it. A year later, and I totally get it. I don’t own an iPad nor a Kindle, but I downloaded the Kindle app on my iPhone and have been amazed by how much more I read now that I have a library in my pocket. It’s done in smaller doses, however, given the medium, and I think that the mobility of these devices will affect the content itself. More authors will be moving to formats that suit our mobile culture of constant interruption. Seth Godin has been writing like this (in bite-sized, blog-like chunks) for years now. I think more authors will be doing this.

  • Remarkable Peace

    I just discovered your blog recently, thanks for the work you put into it.

    I know this post is old enough to be petrified, but it was interesting to me as I’m a bit of a bibliophile myself. It would seem obvious that an electronic market is going to open more and more in the future, but I’m wondering how far that reach will go. For example, who in Haiti is going to read off of (let alone own) a Tablet? Or in most parts of Africa? Or rural China? Most of the world’s population does not live at the level where they can afford and productively use many technologies we enjoy in the States. And yet, books can go that distance, and outlast any technology we’ve come up with in the last 200 years (just look at the Dead Sea Scrolls…not that just anyone is picking them up for a browse; but they endured time and change).

    That said, Tom-Nel’s primary audience is not rural China or African villages, so in that sense I think your point is well taken. Considering TN’s target population it would seem a good idea to take the lead in investing and opening that market.

    Thanks TN, for your work in producing good books!

  • Remarkable Peace

    I just discovered your blog recently, thanks for the work you put into it.

    I know this post is old enough to be petrified, but it was interesting to me as I’m a bit of a bibliophile myself. It would seem obvious that an electronic market is going to open more and more in the future, but I’m wondering how far that reach will go. For example, who in Haiti is going to read off of (let alone own) a Tablet? Or in most parts of Africa? Or rural China? Most of the world’s population does not live at the level where they can afford and productively use many technologies we enjoy in the States. And yet, books can go that distance, and outlast any technology we’ve come up with in the last 200 years (just look at the Dead Sea Scrolls…not that just anyone is picking them up for a browse; but they endured time and change).

    That said, Tom-Nel’s primary audience is not rural China or African villages, so in that sense I think your point is well taken. Considering TN’s target population it would seem a good idea to take the lead in investing and opening that market.

    Thanks TN, for your work in producing good books!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You make a good point about places like Haiti. However, realistically, they don’t buy many print books either. Unfortunately, unless we consciously try to reach out to those lacking in resources, the digital divide is only going to make poverty worse.

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    I’m torn… the purist in me loves the feel, look, and experience of ‘real’ books… but the tech, geeky side of me loves the new technology… Hopefully we can preserve the beauty of the old, while utilizing the possibilities of the new!

    Joshua Hood
    2020visiononline.org

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  • world top tenz

    nice intersting post
      World Top Tenz

  • Swhines

    Dear Mike: Know you’re busy, man. But I’d like to meet you sometime at Starbucks or something. I’m writing full time now, and my new book is out Sept. 1, Titanic: One Newspaper, Seven Days, and the Truth That Shocked the World. I have an idea about how to add value to online books I’d like to run past you. I wonder if this idea has been tried before.

  • Web design London

     I am looking forward to buying my first ebook reader, I usually buy 2-3 hard copy books a month, I am excited about what is coming from the ebook standpoint.

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  • Macamaniac007

    It’s been interesting reading through the comments and at this stage I have the luxury of being 2 years later than when this was blog post was first written.  We can now see that the iPad (and all those other tablets, I’m an Applehead), is here to stay and has changed the publishing and reading landscape.  I read books on my iPhone, a lot.  It’s very easy to stand in the looooong lines at Walmart and catch up on, sometimes, an entire chapter in a book I’m reading.  Riding through the car wash, waiting in the line to pick up my son from school,  stuck in traffic (not moving of course), and a host of other situations has changed from just listening to the radio to consuming a whole bunch of text – and video/audio :)

  • http://www.inspiration-for-singles.com/ Jack Zavada

    It’s now 2012 and that video was dated 2010.  What happened to the SI tablet?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t heard a word.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I researched and couldn’t find any other information about it either. It looks like it was never released but did scare Steve Jobs when he saw the preview video. – http://mashable.com/2011/11/04/sports-illustrated-steve-jobs/

      Could have been a great tablet.

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  • Solidussharp

    You can change your opinion but you can’t change the facts. My pointpeople should really get into the habit of fact checking. Lots of bad advice is making content toxic to readers who are smart and know about current trends and industry reports that are shaped with lies . What are yout own thoughts or facts?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Yep, these are all issues that must be addressed.

  • HOTCHA1

    WOW! WHAT AWESOME TECHNOLOGY! WAY COOL!