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.

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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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  • wackozacko

    Something jumped out at me reading this article which no one has commented on. What about spoken text? I'm a member of the 'younger' generation and if I were to be presented with such media rich content, I wouldn't want to stop browsing the photo's to read the text. Especially if I could have it read for me.
    Just a thought, but I think including some good spoken text software would greatly improve this form of media rich presentation.

    • patriciazell

      Right now I am dealing with juniors and seniors in high school who do not want to read a book–they want it to be read to them. If we're not careful, too much technology will rob us of a necessary skill.

  • patriciazell

    I imagine the state of our economy will play a big part in whether this technology takes off. Many people already are paying an arm and a leg just to "read" and to communicate. Frankly, many people don't need any more "must have" technological devices–they struggle with just keeping a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
    I don't think the delivery method of the written word is the problem. The real issue is the sheer amount of "stuff" that wants our attention. Look at the explosion of magazines, books, cable broadcasting, and web sites–is it any wonder that some of them are going out of business? There are just not enough consumers to support them all.
    Just like fashion, physical books may go out of style for a time, but the pendulem will probably swing back. Look at the resurgence of the record players–after all the I-pods, cds, and play lists, record players are showing up in catalogs again.

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  • Danny Z

    I am not in the publishing industry but have $.02. All things media are changing so quickly, much like the tech sector. This puts publishers in a difficult spot, do you hold the line and continue business as usual understanding that the company could become extinct? Do you invest in R&D or develop the latest product, delivery system, methodology, etc with the potential that the investment does not hit the markets needs? It seems like creating a more flexible and adaptable company would be key to surviving a major shift like this. Reducing the companies assets, outsourcing more non core functions, partnering with hardware and software providers for content delivery would be strategies to consider. I think it is an exciting time to be in the publishing industry as you figure out how to continue creating value for the reader and the writer.

    My recent post Should Serving God Make You Miserable?

  • terri

    These are exciting times!

    I have no idea how these new devices will impact the business of publishing. I’ve been a business consultant, with a background in accounting, and a technical writer, so to me, the world of publishing doesn’t compute because it’s too esoteric and operates out-of-time.

    Consider, an editor/publisher buys today, something an author wrote last year, that won’t be published until next year (or more) in hopes the reading public will buy it – then.

    What I do know – since my tech writing work was done at the cutting edge of high tech – these devices will reshape the way information is presented and consumed. Publishing is a global business that really isn’t sure about what product is going to appeal to the masses, so puts out lots of books.

    I’m a simple girl. I like a good story and a good meal with my family.

    I am totally into digital media but am also very discerning about what I read and how easily I click off a website. There are changes ahead, but technology is not more important than story. Branding may be the thing, for another decade or two, but what will evolve is story, and only if well written and well presented.

    Readers can already absorb more than printed words on a page, while good music plays in the background, and graphics explode, it’s called movies. But the other side of the picture is taking a pause, going into a meditative state during prayer and exercise. Silencing the noise to hear the voice of spirit, and good words on the page.

    Publishing is also a global business. How available will these new devices be in countries that have massive populations but still don’t have running water. Yet, they have libraries.

    The history of books is just beginning, the potential for story is constantly evolving.

  • JenniferLKing

    What excites me is the possibility of enriched reading and learning, on a completely different level than has ever been known before. Being a bit on the technology background side as a writer, I see endless opportunities to reach readers in a new way– even starting with something as simple as linking to a publisher's and author's webpages, and other web presences. And fiction– well, embedding new props will be tricky to give the reader his imagination room to go, but again, the possiblities are endless.

    Alongside new reading technology, I think I'll always enjoy a case full of books, even if they are "artifacts", but thank you, Michael, for helping to lead the curve, and engage others in something new.

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  • nicola

    Hi Mike, Thanks for the heads up video and your excellent predictions for the future of book publishing. As a published genre author and electronic publisher, I say bring it on. Why just read text when you can have a multimedia experience? It's something I've experimented with in a free online thriller at Just don't call it a book; it's a Quillr.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That's a clever title. Great!

  • @sandycathcart

    It definitely looks like the dawning of a new age…as a photographer I witnessed the turning from film to digital over ONE Christmas season. I'm still dealing with the adjusting to the changes but overall the switch has helped me more than hindered.

    The important thing as writers is to nurture our imaginations.

    I'm both excited and frightened of the new changes coming to the publishing industry, but I'm mostly hopeful. My imagination is going wild with ideas for both my nonfiction and fiction writing.

    That said…I believe the coming change will not be as abrupt or complete as it was for the film-to-digital change. Straight text will still be a needed commodity, even if we add all the bells and whistles to it.

    As a reader, I still like to read a book first, listen to it on tape second, and then watch the movie. Electronic book. Fine. I can adjust. But give me the option of straight text along with the choice of all the bells and whistles.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I think the straight text should be an option, too. The good news is that should be easy technically.

  • John

    I might be wrong, but I doubt that I'll ever buy one of these.

    Devices like this do some things well, but they're mostly for technophiles not bibliophiles. Sure you can carry hundreds of books and/or magazines on an electronic device. That's great. But who wants to curl up by the fireplace with an electronic device? These devices (which will become obsolete every year or two…the Kindle is already in its third release) will probably never completely replace ink and paper.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Kindle is actually in its second release. Kindle owners are Amazon's heaviest book buyers. The experience is so easy. All you have to do is think of the book or hear one recommended and you can download it in a few seconds.

      I don't expect books to ever disappear altogether. Just like we still have candles. ;-)

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  • MichaelNozbe

    I'm still not sure if that's the case and if 2010 will bring so much change… however due to the fact that the content is "in the cloud" this could really start happening…

    I've read my last books on my iPhone and now I also started purchasing audio-books… there will be lots of new ways of digesting content and it'll be really exciting to see what the consumers will eventually choose as their "dominant" way of "reading"… or there will be no dominant way? Just a set of really powerful alternatives?
    My recent post Open ID is for geeks… Facebook and Twitter are not… and win!

  • Shane Kennard

    Michael, great to see someone "get it" from the "hard copy" world. What Time is working on is HUGE. Makes me excited to see what Apple has in store. You have to think it is every bit of good as that.
    My recent post Giving To Church Planting

  • Shelia

    As a rabid reader (yes I purposely used rabid rather than avid) :), I love anything that will put more books into my hands. I think of some obscure titles I have tried to locate of late and wonder if this will eventually make those easier, and less costly, to obtain.

    Like David, I am an old soul who will always have a sentimental attachment to the feel, the smell, the crinkle of pages. I will always want beautiful books lying about the house seducing me to stop and linger for a bit. But the possibility of reading about a great artwork, an exotic location, or a marvelous musical composition, then clicking through a link to visit said work or locale is immensely appealing to me.

  • barbara

    I just keep thinking of the trees. All those trees that won't need to be cut down to make paper.
    I too love to hold a real book and turn its pages but I'm willing to sacrifice that experience to help the planet.
    This shift reminds me of microwave ovens when they first came out. That technology was so new it changed everything. It took a few years though and even now you'll still find the occasional person who doesn't have one. Notice how no one takes microwave cooking classes anymore? It's ingrained into our culture now.
    I still think books will be around but this technology is not going to go away.

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  • Steve

    I like it, but still anticipating the Apple Tablet. The latest rumor is what – March maybe? I like what you said on another post about the preferred sizing, something between the size of the iPhone and the kindle. I've been saying the same, and I bet many others feel the same.
    My recent post Proverbs, Clichés, and One-Liners

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  • Jeff

    Very interesting ongoing discussion here. Frankly, I feel behind the curve. Is one reader better than another – if so, which one and why?
    My recent post Would You Grieve the Loss of Physical Books?

  • Dave


    It looks like a big iPhone which is what a larger iPhone could easily do today!

    So – the big question is – when is Apple going to make the iTablet or iScreen that looks like this demo ? If Apple doesn't do it….somebody else will and it could be a popular NetBook combined with a reader on steroids !

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  • ejdavis

    Kindle, Nook, or SI Tablet …

    I am an avid reader. I read about 5 books a week, usually from cover to cover.

    I am dual-careered. In psychotherapy, my work evolves with advances in brain research and scientific books are critical. I am also a User Experience (UX) designer and am always canvassing the digital information architecture of websites, software, mobile applications, and gadgets to watch human factor trends. (I do read an occasional inspirational book for my own nourishment, hence my admiration of publishers like Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.)

    Books going digital is a great delight! I am hoping a digital reader will aid in keeping my skillsets cutting edge but I'm not sure how I feel about a digital reader and the more "limbic", or emotional reading I do.

  • ejdavis

    I will be watching early 2010 to see which reader emerges out front. I will also read with interest the customer ratings. The prettier graphic user interface doesn't always get the best return-on-investment. Which early design features are going to separate the leading reader from the pack? Will there be a difference in user psychological demographics and will publishers need a multi-neural strategy? Will the leading digital reader be passive … or will it be 'engaging'?
    Ahh … the possibilities!
    Simple wireframe diagrams and fancy html + css won't cut it. The key will be to see if Thomas Nelson can transition out of static digital design to more interactive (engaging) book design! You will have to add superstar digital designers to your list of superstar authors!
    I know you can do it! Now, ready, set … go!

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  • Dianne Koehler

    As a member of a library community it seems there is no place for this technology as it is very anti-sharing. I would love to see books, esp non-fiction/reference and magazines available in digital. we could have so many more available for people to browse. we could keep the older issues to refer back to and enjoy. Perhaps the cloud computing community will enable this.

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  • Antonya

    I hope the love for holding a physical book in your hand never dies. It's an experience that can never be replaced by technology. Books don't have batteries run out, they smell amazing, and they're wonderful to look at as they fill up your shelves and represent the different adventures you have gone on.

    As great as technology is is, books are a tradition that should be carried on through out time. They have been our "ultimate discourse" for centuries and what honor would we be doing them by replacing them with plastic and chips?

    • Michael Hyatt

      You could replace "book" with candle and make the same argument.

      I don't think books will ever completely go away for the same reason that candles will never go completely away. However, I do believe that physical books will be largely replaced by digital ones—probably in the next few years.

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  • Shennen

    I have a problem with Number 6, People will be reading more than ever.
    It doesn't matter how much people read, what matters is how much people comprehend what has been written. Putting bells and whistles on the words won't make you more readily grasp the concepts; if anything, it could distract your concentration.

    I see a difference between communication tools and educational content. I have IMs, texts, and emails blasting away at me all day long that I have to read. This reading falls under communication. I see little to no intellectual value in all this reading. Give me a book – that doesn't need batteries – and a quiet place and I can learn something.
    My recent post Mom's Choice Award – GOLD

  • Jonathan

    Very interesting

  • Jeff

    Great insight, thanks!

  • @christinet6d

    I kinda sorta agree. Yes, media consumption habits are changing. But the industry isn't "dead". It is evolving to meet customers needs. (Or at least it should be.)

    Let's also remember that no matter how many Kindles Amazon tells us that they've sold, these technologies are still novelties for the majority of the reading public. When faced with a $300+ purchase (device + content) or a $14.95 purchase (paper + content), many people are still choosing the cheapest, most familiar technology, i.e. bound pages.

    The biggest challenge for media will be how to develop a business model that supports the need of both digital and paper customers. As long as you've got customers in both camps, you can't abandon either out right. Because paper isn't going anywhere soon, and digital is clearly here to stay.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Just to be clear: I didn't say the industry is dead. I said that book publishing as we know it is near death.

      Also, Amazon claims that in November two-third to one-half of their book sales were Kindle versions. This number shocked me and indicates that we are well past the early adopter phase.

      Thanks for commenting.

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  • brewster

    I would think more content will be consumed because it will be easier to touch. I will be able to buy a book from my phone/tablet and can do so on impulse. I wont have the time to talk myself out of it on the way to the bookstore. Marketing becomes more important than ever.
    My recent post Preparing For “The Next”

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  • Andrew Tribute

    This is a very interesting video but hardly the first on this subject. I remember a video on the future newspaper produced by Atex in the 1980s that showed many similar concepts. Time were a big Atex customer and obviously got many of there ideas back then. It is also interesting to put what was shown into context. What we are seeing is not really an e-Reader. This is another version of the Tablet PC that Microsoft introduced a few years back. It will have a limited battery life because it is driving a largish conventional LED screen. We will not see color on e-Readers using low power consumption screens for probably three years. This Time device will also be relatively heavy compared with Kindle like devices. The video shows what is possible but unfortunately not what will be deliverable in a practical format for some time. The Apple Tablet will almost certainly be similar with an LED color screen. The real future will be when E-Ink or Plastic Logic bring color screens to market. Probably the first implementation of the Time tablet will be as software for a PC.

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  • Tim Baker

    While I agree that there are drastic changes on the horizon, I don't think they'll be here as soon as some people think.
    When the compact disc was introduced in the late eighties people swore that vinyl was dead. To a degree this was true, but the LP died a very slow death and still enjoys popularity among some purists who enjoy the imperfections associated with it.
    I can't say that I agree with your comparison of "black & white to color" because that was an improvement to an existing medium, not a completely new technology.
    Naturally it is inevitable that digital technology will completely replace analog technology but in my opinion it will not be complete for many years. Probably about the same amount of time it takes for the analog generation to become a non-factor.
    Even when the automobile was invented the horse and carriage hung on until the die-hards…died off.

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  • Mick Grady

    This is an interesting perspective and I agree with almost all of it. Back in the day when Flash came along, everyone thought the Internet and general media would change. Everyone would use Flash or those types of delivery mechanisms to deliver Rich Content. Many websites used Flash to develop Rich Content sites and when the web crawlers had difficulty decoding the content developers pushed things in a different direction. Today Flash is used everywhere but there are not many pure Flash sites.

    I’ve always wondered about the movie industry and how they seem to consistently change the story line. Take Lord of the Rings. The trilogy is pretty much in sync with the books, but there is a depth that the movies omitted. Perhaps it’s the time and expense to create a movie that follows the book or that instead of three movies there would be twelve.

    Here is the conflict in my thinking. When you read a book, albeit the old fashion way or a new reader device, you have the ability to visualize that story using your own creativity. You gain more than just reading the story, but can experience it. Seems to me that being guided so to speak by the visual, audio and animated story tellers we will lose a major reason why we read.

    The new media presentation direction we are headed reminds me of when we were teaching the kids to read. We had all the pretty artist renderings of what their interpretation of the story was and the child’s imagination was left out. When we transitioned to books without pictures every child didn’t want to read those books because there were no pictures. I have written children’s stories for the children and grandchildren in my life. None of them have pictures, mainly because I cannot draw, but primarily because I want them to create in their mind what that story looks like.

    I guess my question is, are now going to create the images of Huckleberry Finn and every other great book written or to be written and leave behind the imagination of our youth, just to accommodate new technology?

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