The 40k Books Keyword Interview on The Future of the Book

by | Sep 6, 2011

I was asked by Letizia Sechi (@letiziasechi) of, an epublisher that specializes in short works, to contribute to their interview series with publishing insiders.

This is quite good fun. There are 5 keywords, and you are free to write whatever you want in response. If you like this kind of thing, head over to 40k Books and check out others from contributors like Joanna Penn, Richard Nash, Kassia Krozser and others.

Here’s the interview, originally published as “Publishing will need to turn into an innovation-driven business to survive.”

#ebook—It remains to be seen whether the e-book will become the product the publishing industry needs in order to maintain a business model that’s very old and crumbling. But e-publishing is inherently disruptive and, with the happy collusion of readers, who love the low price and convenience of the download, authors who take control of their own e-publishing will rock the world.

#future—The time when text will free itself from the confines of books, book length, book genres and all the other requirements of publishing that have been dictated more by manufacturing necessities or distribution needs, and less by the imperatives of form or the desires of readers. It’s also when readers and authors, bypassing intermediaries, will decide between them what texts, in which formats, and at what length, are the ones that will succeed.

#indie—The bottom half of the fracturing of the world into international conglomerates, on the one hand, and the rest of humanity, on the other. Made up of everything not controlled by the publishing conglomerates, the indie world is more or less independent, and is still where the radical experimentation is taking place, where the future is being made.

#prices—Pushing lower for the mass market, but higher for the souvenir book, the memento book, the hand-crafted edition of a popular book meant for pride of ownership, not just mass distribution. The price pressure from e-books may doom the mass market paperback, but at the same time hardcover book prices may continue to rise.

#innovation—Rather than isolated events, innovation is becoming a norm of everyday life and, in many cases, a necessity for survival in the age of the competition from millions of jostling content creators. A generation raised with the exhortation to “think outside the box” often does, with amazing results. And the book publishing industry, long an enemy of innovation in anything other than cost-savings, will need to turn into an innovation-driven business to survive.

Photo by Andrew Mason

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Gold

    I don’t think I’ve heard any comments about the text to speech feature on some of the E book readers? Just imagine you can read in a dark room.

  2. Christopher Wills

    Interesting interview Joel. On the whole I think you are right although I think one thing you could have placed more importance on is the customer. Technology is contributing to the current changes but they are customer driven changes. The customer is deciding which bits work and which bits don’t.

    In an age when things are moving fast it is easy to assume the pace of change will continue but that isn’t always the case with technology. Sometimes technology pauses for a few years in one field because something changes in another field that takes everyone’s attention.

    Whatever the technology, the product is a story created by a writer and bought for enjoyment by a customer, often on their own in a quiet place and time. It is hard to see how much more technology can affect that experience without changing too far from the original that it becomes a different experience.

    I’ve read recently of the death of the writer as committees will write stories and ebooks will have sounds and moving images etc. Consider cinema. There have been huge technological changes since silent movies; sound, colour, 3D, CGI, etc but the customer still goes into a dark room sits on a seat and watches a large screen. I remember fear stories a few years ago about the demise of acting as CGI could replace actors and even be used to resurrect dead actors. In principle yes but we are years away from a committee of technologists and directors producing a couple of hours of emotional drama on a CGI actor’s face, worthy of an Oscar.

    I think reading and writing are safe for a few years yet (hopefully :) ).


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