Via Flowing Data, a text-books-and-data-visualization mash-up using augmented reality:
It’s very pretty, but – as pointed out at FD – not particularly useful; the physical book ends up as a very cumbersome interface for data that would be more easily and flexibly displayed as a fully computer-native medium from the get-go. But there’s a hint of promise in there, too; an idea waiting for its “killer app”, perhaps. Which is state-of-the-art AR in a nutshell.
Today’s XKCD may not be one of the funniest ever, but as is often the way, it’s the not-so-funny ones that tend to get me thinking:
And as always, it’s the mouseover text that gets to the real point:
“I’ve looked through a few annotated versions of classic books, and it’s shocking how much of what’s in there is basically pop-culture references totally lost on us now.“
Now, that’s a pretty ubiquitous aspect of popular culture he’s on about, but I think we can suggest that sf will suffer more strongly than regular mimetic novels from this problem when appraised by the readers of the future. Making sense of, say, Jane Austen’s work demands an understanding of the sociopolitical milieu in which it was written, but imagine trying to read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl a century from now (assuming, of course, that there’s still someone capable of reading it at that point). To fully grok the story and its commentary, the reader would need to understand not just the historical situation of the Noughties, but also the way the Noughties looked at the future, and (to a perhaps lesser extent) the way in which a work of sf tends to engage in a dialogue with its antecedents and contemporaries.
Of course, that’s partly true of almost any cultural sub-genre. And this here blog will read rather strangely in a century’s time, but (again assuming it’s still around to read, stuffed into a corner of a diamondite teracube in 2110’s equivalent of the Wayback Machine) there’d at least be the links there for context. But that assumes that the links aren’t dead either, of course… and that the reader would be bothered about checking that context. Hmmm. I seem to have just argued my way out of my own hypothesis; maybe Noughties sf in retrospect won’t look any weirder than any of its contemporary media. In fact, thinking about the music videos I’ve seen recently, it might get off quite lightly…
Even so, I quite fancy the job of knocking up hypertext Cliff’s Study Notes-style annotated versions of modern sf novels for the benefit of the cultural anthropologists of the near future… would anyone like to pay me to do that, please?
Related: Douglas Coupland pops in to the New York Times to coin some much-needed neologisms for the near future. I wonder if he has one for marginal book critics who portray popular post-modern authors as self-indulgent cynics?
By most accounts, the publishing industry has been having a tough time of late, having to adapt to increased competition from the Internet and video games; falling sales; and the explosion of self-publishing and print-on-demand technologies. In addition, publishers are searching for ways to make e-books attractive and profitable, and like music publishers before them, they need to come up with new business models and new revenue opportunities.
One such opportunity is the inclusion of advertising in books, both print and electronic, and there are two ways this could happen:
- Firstly, traditional ads could be included in the end pages of books, much as the old mail order ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys used to be included in the backs of American comic books.
- Secondly, and this is perhaps more interesting, interactive hyperlinks could be included within the actual text of the book itself.
If a character in the book drinks a particular brand of soft drink, a link could be included to a promotional landing page on that company’s website; or if the action takes place in New York or San Francisco, links could be included to hotels or tourist attractions in those cities.
Would this kind of advertising work, or would it put off more readers than it attracted, leading to further falls in sales? Could it revolutionise the publishing industry, or would it lead to less variety as advertisers pay only for space in books by big-name authors, leaving books by new writers struggling to attract finance?
Would you buy a book with advertising included in it, or does the very idea repulse you? Can you foresee advertising becoming ubiquitous in literature, or do you have alternative suggestions for the future of the publishing industry?
I’d like to hear your thoughts…
Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at www.garethlpowell.com
… or at least it does in uber-hip New York, where the magazine that bears the city’s name reports on a new batch of shops for hardcore bookgeeks in the Big Apple [via MetaFilter]:
Contributing to the resurgence is the local-is-better ethos, which has bled over from the culinary and fashion worlds, causing readers to crave a more human-scale shopping experience. And the specter of a world without indie bookshops has inspired a new, perhaps quixotic generation of entrepreneurs to jump in. The new booksellers bring a modern approach to the business: In place of the dusty riots of yore are more curated, well-lit shops that emphasize personal service and community—book clubs, readings, charity projects, and even the occasional lit-geek basketball league.
I’ve always been a dusty riot kinda guy myself (yeah, I know, surprising much?, but hey, whatever works – if people are selling books (and making a living selling books) in brick’n’mortar non-chain outlets, I don’t care how they’re doing it.
What about you lot – what’s the state of the indie bookstore in your town or city?
Here’s a novel bit of repurposing. Thanks to stricter laws on verifying the age of tobacco buyers, masses of Germany’s old cigarette vending machines will be obsolete by the end of the year. But rather than consign them to the scrapheap, German publishing company Hamburger Automatenverlag has modded them to sell literature instead:
The repurposed machines carry a series of condensed novels, photo books, graphic novels and collections of poetry by local authors — all designed to be exactly the same size as a packet of cigarettes. The idea is to get people into the habit of reading as opposed to smoking.
As smoking prevention plans go, I doubt it’ll be a roaring success, but I do like the idea of books on sale in the sort of unusual locations that cigarette machines might be found. I also like the idea that conversions like this are like miniature versions of what Bruce Sterling has taken to calling “stuffed animals” – relics of the past, stripped out and repopulated with the needs of the present. Cigarette machines, Victorian-era bank buildings… who knew there was a connection?