What will reading look like in 2010?

Well, it’s been a lively year for changes in the publishing industry, hasn’t it? This time last year, I wrote a post titled 2009 – the year the physical bookstore lays down and dies? – and over here in the UK, Borders has just gone into receivership, a few days before Amazon claimed to have sold more Kindle ebooks over the holiday period than dead-tree books. The times, they are a-changin’.

I still don’t have an ebook reader myself, because I’ve not seen one that’s open enough for my tastes – I don’t want to be tied to one retailer (same reason I don’t have an iPod), and I want to be able to read multiple formats without jumping through hoops. But 2010 looks like the year that the tablet computer makes its presence felt (if Apple are going to release one, you can bet your boots that cheaper and more open devices will follow close on its heels), and that means all we need is a decent platform for reading ebooks.

Enter inventor and Singularitarian Ray Kurzweil, who has a track record of disruptive developments in an assortment of industries; his new company knfb Reading Technology (a cooperative venture with the National Federation of the Blind) is set to debut an ebook software platform called Blio at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show next week. It’s already available for free download, with versions for PC, iPhone and iPod Touch, and (according to the linked article) it trumps pretty much all of the competition on features and accessibility. Blio may well turn out to be the grenade in the ebook punchbowl… I’m hoping an Android-native version appears pretty soon.

And what of the humble magazine? Distribution and print costs are killing off all but the most tenacious print publishing niches at a ferocious rate, but there’s plenty of people trying to find a new paradigm for the format – here’s a video demo of Mag+, the result of a collaboration between a Swedish publisher and BERG, the London-based design outfit [via MetaFilter]:

Of course, you may be thinking that all these developments are attempts to saddle a horse that has already fled the stable… after all, no-one reads any more, do they? Well, actually, they do – the consumption patterns and preferred media have changed rapidly, but a recent University of California study shows that the amount of text consumed by the average American has actually tripled since 1980, and social networks like Facebook have ordinary people writing more regularly than ever before (although the quality and nature of the material they write is admittedly pretty variable).

The one thing we can probably say for certain is that people are still going to be reading in 2010, and for a long time afterwards. The challenge for writers and publishers (of fiction or otherwise) are to find the channels that work best for the material they produce, and then to find a way to leverage that channel to make it a viable business model.

Interesting times ahead, don’t you think? 🙂

2 thoughts on “What will reading look like in 2010?”

  1. Many consumers are actually quite victorian. I wouldn’t say they aren’t ready for these upgrades – most people are – they are just not equipped for it. They’ll say, yah, let’s give it a try, and more than half the markets will succumb to future shock, an electric sense of dissociation, confusion, misattribution and outright overload. It won’t be just the dead horse of overload (or as Jamais calls it FSS?) but rather will have may come with a severe political backlash. Imagine all those insightful graphics and zillions of dinosaur journalists now forced to study interaction design, modular ly-out, dynamic content (or whetyever other lingo I could have sterlinged out of my thumb) and come up with a medium and message that competes.

    Err facts might attain more impact value with those graphic depicting tools. Sure you can always confuse people with em, but I think it will be easier to make bullshit falsifiable given these tools.

    Oil industries won’t like that. Sinister Gorean carbon NewWorldOrders might be gnashing their teeth. The Anti-Smoking lobbyists of the near future might get upset. Name any heated cause – pro/con climate change, peak oil, abortion, medical insurance, pentagon expenses, weapons trades, the third world, the palestine conflict –

    what if a few billion consumers don’t just watch factoids not in soundbytes but are immersed in a culture of actual information. A culture of information, where presentation, capturing interest, actual content, sensible agenda outwits the alternatives? I mean, certain rightwing interests (and I am being blissfully optimist here) might be really unhappy about this. Internet pushed voters towards one direction of the spectrum. Internet mobilized people to vote. These media might accelerate that process significantly.

  2. “I don’t want to be tied to one retailer (same reason I don’t have an iPod)”

    iPods don’t tie you to one retailer. Well, okay, only one company makes the *device*, but that’s generally true of any commercial device. The music can come from pretty much any source — CD rips, Amazon Music, iTunes, any old MP3….

    In fact it was Steve Jobs campaigning for the big studios to allow him to sell music without DRM, and he got what he wanted. No more DRM on iTumes Store music. 🙂

    (Though, ironically considering the post topic, I believe audiobooks from iTunes are still DRM. So what — just buy CDs and rip them….)

    You’re right about eBooks though. The Amazon Kindle is pretty much exactly what people (falsely) accused the iPod of being for all those years. You’re at the mercy of Amazon for most content and it is locked down hard.

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