Matt Stewart, a San Francisco-based writer, posted his entire book, The French Revolution, on Twitter. All 95,000 words of it. This experiment took him four months and 5,000 tweets to complete. With the advancement of technology and all the new forms of communication, Stewart was seeking another way to reach his audience. Now his book is coming out in print form but that isn’t stopping him from trying to make book reading more interesting. He has teamed up with Ricoh Innovations to create a free companion iPhone application to the book. He is intrigued with the idea of giving books the same kind of bonus features and deleted scenes as movies have. An iPad would be able to do this, showing pictures of different locations from the book and interviews, but not many people are reading books on the iPad yet.
These are all interesting ideas, but I’m a book traditionalist. I like holding a book in my hands, the smell of pages, and being able to pick up the book and open to the page I left off on. For me, reading has always been separate from technology. Reading a book is a completely different experience than watching a movie or skimming articles on the computer. Now books are being melded with technology through the Kindle, iPad, and now apparently Twitter.
What does this mean for the future of book reading?
Are we looking at a future where paperback books can only be found in dusty back rooms of college libraries or used bookstores (if there still will be something called a bookstore)? With the advancement of gadgets like the Kindle, soon it will be more convenient to just download a book onto the Kindle than to actually drive to the bookstore. But then where would the joy be of spending hours getting lost in a bookstore? It is clear to see the world of books is changing, but it is the extent of that change that is still unclear.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that Kindle books are now up to 35% of Amazon book sales just 18 months after being launched. It jumped from 13% to 35% when the Kindle2 went on sale in February. If these sales are incremental, it is great for the authors and the publishing companies. If they are just destroying the regular book sales, then it’s still okay for authors and publishing companies, but it’s horrible for distributors and manufacturing companies.
For the iPhone, the new hot application to get is Books. It has already overtaken the Utilities category and it looks set to beat out Entertainment as well. In the past week, the top app in the Books category was Kindle for iPhone. Now people can download books onto their iPhones at discounted prices, publishers and authors can add more relevant or timely information or offer a limited time promotional price. Since there are 50 times the number of iPhones as there are Kindles, the popularity of the Kindle for iPhone app might get even more book sales than the Kindle in the future.
It seems as though the future of books is moving away from traditional paperbacks and toward reading devices like the Kindle. Whether this will be a good or bad thing in the long run remains to be seen. Hopefully the new mediums will turn reading into a fun activity for the younger tech savvy generation.