Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A book back into history

An accomplished animator who has recently shopped around a picture book asked me, “What are your feelings on the [publishing] industry? Do you feel that it is antiquated?”

For years we’ve heard drumbeats about the digital invasion, yet I was still jolted by his use of “antiquated.”

My response:

Like music and movies, book publishing must now urgently embrace change, but I don’t feel the industry is antiquated. Writers and artists should look at this as an online Oklahoma land grab, so to speak—they must race out and stake their claim to something new. Specifically, a new way of telling stories.

I do believe that within five years fewer physical books will be produced. And I think it’s likely that within a generation, few if any print-only novels will still be printed on paper.

But I don’t believe printed books will die out completely. In fact, I see this as an opportunity for publishers to offer more content and present it in creative ways.

I believe savvy publishers will offer two versions of a book at the same time—but each with their own “bonus features” so people might want to buy both book and iPad app. For example, a print picture book may contain unused character designs. The digital companion may contain a short film showing the artist at work. (Some publishers may already be offering a multi-platform book like this, and if not, it’ll happen momentarily.)

Or perhaps buying the hard copy will generate (on the receipt) a unique code that you can use to get a discount on the iPad app, or to unlock hidden features on it.

Perhaps it’s only delusional self-preservation, but I believe the format that has the best shot of remaining in print the longest is the picture book.

Digital dominance might force publishers to lower prices of paper books, but I believe as long as writers and artists produce good content—and are open to change—there is a model that will permit us to continue to do so.

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