Given Amazon's recent release of the Kindle ebook reader, the timing of Jeff Gomez's Print Is Dead couldn't be better. Regardless of your beliefs about print vs. e-content, you need to read this book, especially if you're in the publishing business. You might not agree with Jeff's opinions but I guarantee you he'll make you think about the industry in ways that you've never thought about it before. Even if you're just a fan of reading in general you owe it to yourself to read this excellent book.
The way I test the value of a book is by looking back and seeing how many times I've folded over a page or highlighted a passage that got my attention. My copy of Print Is Dead has so many folds and highlighter marks that it looks like it's been read by 10 different people. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
Many of those in publishing see themselves as guardians of a grand and noble tradition, so much so that they sometimes suffer delusions of grandeur.
...pretty much anyone under the age of thirty qualifies for being accustomed to a 'constant stream of digital stimulation.' And so to expect future generations to be satisfied with printed books is like expecting the Blackberry users of today to start communicating by writing letters, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps.
Today's kids are not going to want to pick up a big book and spend hours in a corner silently, passively reading. Why in the world would they do that? It's not interactive. They can't share the experience with their friends. There's no way to change the book to suit their own tastes.
The publishing industry needs to realize this, and it needs to also find a way to get to these kids by making content available in a way that will first reach them (i.e., digitally) and then will give them the tools to interact with it and share it (post excerpts on their MySpace pages, email chapters to friends, IM paragraphs across class, etc.) If not, there are dozens of ways this generation will choose to spend their time, and none of them will involve books.
Of course there are many who contend that books are works of art and shouldn't be reworked or touched at all. The latter is of course a silly view since readers 'rework' these books all of the time by skipping whole sections as they read, the same way that people rarely ever listen to the entirety of "The White Album."
The ability to alter, and then share, text to this degree would mean that you could edit a book to your own liking and then send an amazing chapter or even a couple of sentences to someone, via email or a webpage, along with a message that says, 'Take a look at this; I think it's amazing.' Imagine all of the sharing of literary material that would occur if the reigns were loosened just a little.
Most of the early ebook formats and devices tried to faithfully mimic the ink-on-paper experience, and they failed not because they didn't look like real books, but because they looked too much like traditional books.
In the same way that Jimmy Buffett has created a multimillion dollar business around the success of his 1977 song 'Margaritaville,' so too will future authors create online communities and brands built around their works that have the potential to be even more popular than the works the communities were built to support.
Writers who are unskilled in the ways of the Internet, or just don't want to play any part in the online discussion and want to write their books and be left alone, will be like movie actors at the end of the silent era who were forced to have elocution lessons when talking pictures were suddenly the brand new thing.
If publishing can't find a way to tap into this need for discussion, then it's going to find itself and its product increasingly left out of the conversation.
...one day (perhaps soon) a printed book in a digital world will seem as quaint and as antiquated as a watch or a fountain pen feels today.
It's simply not possible that the Internet is going to have an effect on every area of our lives except reading books.
If I had to rank the 12-15 books I've read this year this would be #1 by far. It's extremely insightful, well written and is one of those gems that makes you stop and think. I've only hit some of the highlights in this post. You need to read the entire book to appreciate the vision Gomez has for print and e-content. Highly, highly recommended!