Add this into the mix as one more theory on the future of the Book. Following the evolution of current distribution channels along to an interesting and somewhat sustainable outcome, and forgetting the notion that printed paper pages will somehow endure, let’s suppose that “bird books” and landlocked books continue to exist in harmony, except with landlocked books being essentially shells of what we think of as paper books.
Propelled along by Moore’s Law, the landlocked book sheds its paper interior, which is also the bulk that makes it so costly to ship and produce, and gains instead a slim flat panel display, mounted on a cardboard structure to give it a certain width. This may be the day such a display becomes cheaper to produce than its packaging — 7 cents, to be inexact.
The system contained on the chip in such a device is harder to predict. Perhaps it will be KindleOS, or iPhoneOS, or Android. It doesn’t matter to anyone, because you won’t download other books onto it, or jump on the web, or even be online. It will be engineered to deal with one specific book. If that book has video, it will be compiled to handle that, or if it needs to pull in web feeds, it will have basic network capability. Etcetera.
The binding, hard cover, and jacket will look and feel just exactly as book readers would expect it to look — and no print book designers will be harmed in this evolution, they will all just become jacket designers. The thickness of the packaging will even allow for a spine, so you can continue to clutter your shelves with these shiny objects, and when you want to read, select your title by looking at spines, pull one out and sit down and read in your cozy chair just as if you were reading an old fashioned print book, sans Kindle, sans iPad, sans anything that remotely feels like a “device.”
So the Holdout Theory posits that, since publishers and hardware manufacturers both have enough vested interest in distribution methods they already understand, rather than ones they can’t seem to figure out, that creating a future like this is a matter of deliberately holding back the evolution of the ethereal, un-landlocked, “bird book” in favor of one that ships and sits on retail shelves and feels like an object and not an intangible bunch of data.
I have to admit, it’s not too bleak a picture, to imagine that one day we will have both the iTunes or the Netflix of digital books as well as an option to buy something very object-like, even if it’s just a package with a machine inside. After all, it’s working pretty well for software manufacturers.