Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Books in repose



I was sitting outside the Barnes & Noble cafe perimeter with my NOOK Simple Touch. I was using its Read in Store feature, which allows one to read any ebook available for purchase for up to one hour. You have to be physically present in the store with your NOOK connected to that store's WiFi, of course, to do this. At any time before the end of that hour, you can purchase the ebook or just leave it. But you could return the next day and continue reading the same ebook. In front of me were stacks of shelves of books — for convenience I refer to the traditional print editions of books as "books" and their electronic versions "ebooks" — and thinking of the future of publishing.

The first thing that struck was the irony of having to go to a location with books to browse ebooks. There were people in the cafe who were reading books they just took off the shelves that they were just "browsing" in the same way I was browsing ebooks on my Touch. (There were probably more people there with their notebook computers just using the store's free WiFi to browse the internet.) But I was there, as I had gone there before, just to browse (i.e. read) ebooks and I would not even touch a single book.

The second thing that crossed my mind were how alien the books sitting on the shelves in front of me appeared. It was like they should be in a museum, like ancient artifacts. People looked anachronistically odd walking up the shelves and pulling one out and looking inside. It was so much more convenient to read that book on my Touch. I could navigate through it so much better. In fact it was a better reading experience in every way.

I can understand, perhaps, some wanting art and picture books. The Touch could not replicate those very well, But the Tablet might. And math books are not there yet. But MathML is part of EPUB3 (or EPUB 3). EPUB is the core of the ebook creation and everything follows from EPUB. EPUB3 is really a subset of HTML5 (HTML5/CSS3/JS to be technical), so you might say EPUB3/HTML5 is the future of publishing.

Will people still want books? As time goes on, this desire will diminish. The reading devices are that good now. I suppose if someone wanted a book version of an ebook they would (via some program or service) convert the EPUB to PDF and send it to a Print-On-Demand (POD) machine to spit it out.

I don't know what will happen to the store with books. I don't think it has many years left. A big part of the bookstore itself isn't even books anymore. It's toys and other non-book gift items. And there is a section just selling NOOKs, of course. Maybe there will still be a store without books in the future where people go just to browse ebooks.