There’s a terrific essay in today’s Wall Street Journal about the future of the book, reading, and other related matters. Written by Steven Johnson, whose most recent book was The Invention of Air. Because it’s the Wall Street Journal, there’s no way to know if it’s available as a free read, but it’s worth tracking down. One focus of his essay:
There is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?
That’s a question I’ve asked here on many occasions. (See for example here and here or any of the entries under the category “Future of Print.”) I don’t know the answer, although Johnson takes a stab at it.
The essay also addresses another issue I’ve pondered: the disconnect between what people think is out there (eg, whatever shows up on Google), and what’s actually out there (billions of undigitized books). Johnson also contemplates the act of reading itself:
Because they have been largely walled off from the world of hypertext, print books have remained a kind of game preserve for the endangered species of linear, deep-focus reading.
But unlike most essays of this sort, he also wonders what the e-book will mean for writers:
Writers and publishers will begin to think about how individual pages or chapters might rank in Google’s results, crafting sections explicitly in the hopes that they will draw in that steady stream of search visitors. Individual paragraphs will be accompanied by descriptive tags to orient potential searchers; chapter titles will be tested to determine how well they rank. Just as Web sites try to adjust their content to move as high as possible on the Google search results, so will authors and publishers try to adjust their books to move up the list.
And now I’d better stop quoting before I end up violating copyright laws… Anyway, absolutely worth reading.