Friday, December 12, 2008
Raise your hand if you believe books are forever ...
Sigh. I wish I was among you.
Everyone knows the publishing industry is in a recession. Big deal, right? So is everything else. It'll recover.
Perhaps. But my guess is we're at the leading edge of the end of books. If you don't believe me, look at newspapers already. At one time, believe it or not, EVERYONE read the newspaper. Today, people have voted with their mice and clearly indicated they prefer to get their news online and over the TV. Does anyone really believe in 500 years, we'll still be cutting down trees, processing them into paper, printing on them with ink, and then shipping these heavy packages all over the world, only to sell less than 50% of them?
So. A moment of mourning for the end of the Age of Gutenberg.
But there is a hugely bright side to all this. Storytelling will never die. Quite the opposite. I think it will flourish as we gain the means to tell ever more complex, ever more realistic and ever more interactive stories. Moreover, I don't think reading will ever die. Studies have shown the human brain is particularly suited to read and learn from words.
So the "book" of the future will likely resemble the Internet now, except it will be content rich and, most importantly, an open world. Imagine if your readers could start a journey and decide at any point to hop POV from one character to another, but all within the context of the same story. Imagine if you could hurtle toward your conclusion from 10 different places instead of one. Imagine if you could embed mini-stories within the larger context of the world and the main story.
In a way, this is already possible—and anyone who's ever been blown away by Grand Theft Auto knows what I'm talking about. Video games are incredible story devices. You don't just run around shooting stuff (although that's mighty fun), you LIVE IT. And in the open platform games, you can go anywhere, do anything, within the context of the created world.
And it's working! If I'm not mistaken, the video game industry is almost as large, if not larger, than the movie industry itself. It could fit all of print publishing in one joystick.
I used to resist this line of thinking. You know. I grew up on books. I love them. Some of my best memories as a child are reading. But as I learned more about the publishing industry, and watching what's happening now, it became clear it was a ridiculous and unsustainable business model. What kind of industry BEGS its distribution channels to overorder and then return half of its product?
So I'll always have books around. Sure. And my kids probably will, too. And their kids will probably think Grandpa is quaint for collecting those printy thingies. And their kids will probably think Great Grandpa is a quack. But when it comes to being a writer, I'm looking forward to the possibilities ...