The Future of the Future of the Book

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Thumbnail for The Future of the Future of the Book

Scott Thomas, whose recent book Designing Obama was produced as POD (print on demand) and as an iPhone app, is trying to kick up some digital dust. He recently announced Post Press, which he says “is committed to producing fine books and reinventing publishing in the 21st Century.” An admirable notion, yet he could be standing on quicksand. DH interviewed him about the terrain he’s scoped out.

What is Post Press? Publishing is broken. It is never more evident than now. The concept of a book has evolved more in the last three years than in the last 300 years. When the book went from the being scribed by hand to set with movable type there was an explosion in publishing, I think we’re at the brink of a similar explosive period. With the proliferation of more portable digital devices and with the expanding distribution and availability of the internet there will be massive change in what we consider a book, how we produce it and even how fund it. The future publishers will be programmers, the future authors will be social and the future reader will be electronic. Books that are stitched or glued will become a different type of artifact in the post press world. That is Post Press.

What is involved in making a digital books more than a typical CD ROM? Digital books bring about a huge opportunity not available to story tellers in the past. The CD ROM may have brought a smaller format and allowed users to interact with content in a new way but the future of books is far more interesting when our reading is networked and accessible by the global village. Bookmarks are now shared with your friends, your book shelf becomes apart of our digital personal profile and ideas become more easily shared. The readers voice and the authors voice merge for the first time. Try doing that with a CD ROM.

What kind of content are you looking to feature in your venture? Post Press is interested in art and design and how the digital and printed artifact continue to have a relationship. Let’s face it, 99% of the books on the shelves at big box stores are put there by a publishing industry distributing as much tree as possible in exchange for more green. There is nothing sacred about the paper these books are printed on. There is little craft in the production of most of these imported commodities. Beyond the content they almost all look exactly the same. In the future of the book, content remains the king. The majority of books will be distributed in the most economic and streamlined method—digitally. The artifact of the printed book will remain for those that make it a truly sought after object or question it’s role in our lives.

Indeed who is this Post Press for? Desktop publishers, designers, everyone? E-books will allow for a larger audience, it will create more publishers, more designers and in fact more readers. Post Press will explore how e-books will include things beyond words, images, interactive elements, maps and so on. The way we interact with design books is rarely discussed in the e-book conversation. Words are only one variable in the reading experience. It’s the other elements and constructs that make up a book that we are focusing on.

Currently, many publishers are trying to figure out what to do with the iPad. What will make this different? I think there is plenty of room for innovation in this area. Everyone is doing different things and exploring new concepts. It’s important for publishers to explore new ideas and whenever possible use the standards set by ePub and the International Digital Publishing Forum. But many of the problems with the e-book stem from this already archaic set of standards. Likely the iPad has opened the flood gates and allowed people wanting to make books without using ePub able to do so with a more robust architecture rich with interactive potential.

What is the financial model? Still workin’ this out.

I understand you are far from the final build on the Post Press programming, so what is your time frame? The landscape has been shaking under our feet. Our exploration has no time frame. E-books is a discussion that we’ll be having for a long time. Especially with the ever-evolving technologies in front of us. The printed book has had a life for over a thousand years. So it’s important to consider our creations need to exist in time and the foundation of this new medium must consider the magnitude of shaking landscape. It would be a shame to have a history with artifacts that can’t be accessed because the Jaz drive has been discontinued. (James Bridle has some really interesting thoughts on time and books.)

How much of your time is this taking up? The first title Designing Obama we released this year is still taking up about 25% of our time. Interestingly, that time is mostly dealing with the woes of producing physical books, including; reprinting, distribution, fulfillment and all the problems associated with physical products. Hence the inspiration for producing a new simple solution to this age old problem.

For more on e-books and digital publishing see sites for James Bridle and Craig Mod (and here).