The Future of Books and Publishing

Oct 20, 2014 | Book Publishing

The Economist has published a thoughtful essay on the future of the book, publishing, and authorship. One reason I like it so much is the historical perspective.

The Adoption of Television

In 1953, my father and mother purchased one of the first television sets in our town. The inspiration for this trend-setting move was the impending coronation of Elizabeth II.

Television sets were more common, they were still something of a curiosity. Living through the social and technological change that was the adoption of television gives me some perspective on what will happen with books and publishing.

Change will not happen as fast as many predict

The really significant changes require a generation to take hold. Beware predictions of instant or almost-instant change.

Older technologies usually don’t die, they transform

Once pundits predicted the death of radio. After all, why would you need it when you had television? Radio didn’t disappear, but it transformed, and it’s still with us sixty years later.

Historical perspective in perspective

Historical perspective can help make predictions, but it’s not perfect. Historical perspective can help you assess how long major changes will take (usually a generation or more) and how different changes will interact. But even a historical perspective isn’t enough to get it right. For that you need a good guess.