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Reading outside of the book

Despite its klunky design and prohibitive cost, the Kindle ebook reader is the beginning of the end of publishing as we know it, according to Guardian blogger and budding futurist Rob Woodard. Not only that, it has the potential to so completely alter our notion of what a book is that in 10 or 20 years’ time the bound paper version might seem as quaint and limited as a roll of papyrus seems to us today.

Clearly, such a change will have an effect on mainstream publishers. Woodard elaborates:

In an ebook world, printing goes out the window and readers essentially act as their own distributors. This leaves publishing companies with only their editorial and marketing wings. Freed from the crippling costs of book manufacture, storage, and distribution, it is easy to imagine a situation in which small publishers can compete with larger houses on the basis of the quality of their work, instead of the size of their cash reserves.

Or perhaps writers will simply avoid these gatekeepers no matter what their size and publish their own work, either as individuals or in publishing co-ops of their own making, thus ending publishing as we know it. Or maybe none of this will happen, because early in this book revolution, large companies will have grabbed control of the reading devices and databases so that everyone still has to play by the rules they set down.

Some Quillblog readers may find Woodard’s reasoning objectionably reductive “ i.e., his depiction of publishers as greedy middlemen that authors and the reading public are only too eager to dispense with. Still, it is a nice thought, this brave new digital world; we’d like to have one of those publishing co-op thingies ourselves.