Thoughts on the future of books (print and digital)

3 books in digital and print formatsA few weekends ago, I attended BookCampToronto to feed my growing interest in books and the future of the publishing industry. The very first session I attended that day was on publishing and money and some points from the discussion have really stuck with me since.

It’s not easy to get away from discussions today on the future of the industry. Every day I see another article on independent (or major, like Borders) book stores closing and how digital is the death of print. I also find myself listening to people debate print vs. digital with some people vowing that they will never go to the digital “dark side” and abandon the sensory experience they have with print, and others who embrace their eReaders and say they’ll never turn back.  But I also find many people, like myself, who just don’t want to choose sides.

Printed books will become like records

In the session, someone made the comment that they believe that the printed book will never actually die. Instead, it will become more of a collectors’ item, the way records have. And I can see that happening. People will always want to add a beautiful print book to their collection, especially if it comes with extra information or features such as maps and photos. I find that I’m doing this now already. I may read the digital version of a book or borrow a copy from the library, but if I love it, I’ll pick up the print version to add to my collection – especially if it’s a beautifully designed book.

As the discussion continued, someone asked how we can look to the music or film industry for inspiration. The film industry has seen a decline in ticket sales but people still go out to see movies in the cinema. And even more so, people are still buying DVDs and Blu-rays, even though they can buy digital editions through iTunes. Why? Because people like collecting movies, they like the extra features they can get like commentary and blooper reels, they love box sets and even more exciting are features like Easter eggs – anything that makes having that physical copy even more special.

Print and digital bundles

For me, the most interesting idea is of following the movie industry’s example and packaging a digital copy of a book with its print copy.  I have at least two movies on Blu-ray that came with a DVD and the digital version as well. Now, I haven’t used either of the other formats, but knowing I have that option is great! So if I’m about to go on a long trip, I can just load the movie onto my laptop and I’m good to go.

That’s how I feel books should be. Sometimes, I want to buy the print copy and I want to invest in that lovely large hardcover. But the thought of dragging that to and from work every day on the subway to read it? My shoulders just hurt at the thought.

At this point, I’m forced to choose one of the following options:

  • Buy the beautiful hardcover and lug it around (or only read it at home… but if you’re seriously into a story, that’s impossible), or
  • Compromise and buy the paperback. It’s smaller to carry around, but sometimes not as pretty. And well, it still adds weight to my full purse, or
  • Just buy (or borrow) the ebook and read it on my eReader. It’s a great option for  carrying around but if I love the book, I still feel like I want to buy the print copy to add to my collection because I enjoy print that much.

But in my ideal world, I wouldn’t have to choose. I could go out and buy that beautiful hardcover and for that price or just slightly higher, I’d get a digital copy bundled in. Then I can keep my hardcover at home and read on my eReader when I’m on the go. That would be the perfect compromise!

I’m not happy that I had to choose

My feelings on this just grew stronger two weeks ago when I finished A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I had purchased the $10 paperback and carried it around. But I’m on a mission to reduce the strain on my shoulders, so the thought of going through another four (eventually six!) books in the series like this wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  So after considering my options, I ended up buying the digital book set, with the plan to add the hardcover collection to my wishlist if I love the books that much.

It’s working so far, obviously, but I was disappointed that I had to choose.

Now, I don’t know the business and economic side of this and won’t claim to. But I imagine there are major changes that need to occur on the trade publishers’ side to make it even possible. I do have hope though, because educational publishers have been doing this for a while. I distinctly remember getting CD-ROMs and then DVDs in the back of my textbooks during high school and then university. They started with just additional content (like tests and videos) but now you can get digital copies too.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the next few years go as the industry adjusts to these changes and tries to find that balance.

Update: A quick Google search showed me that some publishers are already considering multi-format bundles: Six e-book trends to watch in 2011 and Of Two Minds About Book Still not sure if it’s making business sense for the publishers yet, but it’s a start!

Photo credit: Penn Waggener

What I discovered last week…

So I’m introducing a new feature on my blog in an effort to post more often. It’ll be a (bi-)weekly round-up of links to interesting things I’ve seen and read across the web. Most items will be things I’ve shared already on Twitter, but I’ll try to include some unique links as well.

Of course, this idea is not new, but I’ve found that my favourite blog posts and newsletters are round-up ones. So hopefully these will become useful to someone else out there.

Here’s what I found interesting over the past week and a bit:

Books & Publishing:

PR, Communications & Marketing:

Random:

Travel photos: (from my Tumblr)

Secret Daughter review

Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s first novel My Secret Daughter, a story about motherhood and identity from two sides of the world, was one that came recommended to me.

The story begins with Kavita, in rural India, giving birth on her own to a baby girl. The baby, who unfortunately is born into a society that prefers males, is promptly taken away from her and is never seen again.  At the same time, on the other side of the world in San Francisco, Somer is at the hospital experiencing yet another emotionally gripping miscarriage.

Two women going through such emotional moments right at the beginning of a book? I knew at that moment, whether I liked the story or not, I was going to be hooked.

A short time later, Kavita gives birth to another baby girl but this time in an effort to save her newborn daughter’s life, she gives her away. It’s a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even after she has a son and moves into the big city.

In America, Somer and her husband Krishnan, after realizing they cannot have their own baby, decide to adopt one from a Mumbai orphanage.  It’s a difficult decision to make for Somer, adopting an Indian baby who is more like her husband than her, but the minute she sees the little girl, she falls in love.

The baby of course is the one Kavita gave away.

We follow the stories of the two mothers’ lives as time goes on and soon start to follow the daughter Asha’s story (or Usha as Kavita named her) as she goes to India to do an internship at the Times, to get to know her father’s Indian family, to find her real parents, and ultimately find herself.

Gowda tells the story with excellent detail and style and with some very interesting characters from very different walks of life. The story is ultimately an emotional journey and it’s those emotions that kept me hooked, from the American mother who feels left out to the poor Indian mother whose heart hurts at the struggles her family is going through to Asha’s maturity and realization about the mothers in her life.

As a woman, I was taken by the relationships that unfold between the different women from different cultures and generations.

But what interested me more was how the move from one village/country and culture to another for a “better life” affected the characters and the struggles and the difficulties they faced. I was intrigued by the hardship that came from leaving people behind, with trying to adapt to the new cultures and people without losing themselves, and trying to have other people understand who they really are. And ultimately, the hardship that came when they realized that they don’t entirely fit in either place anymore.

It really reminded me of two other stories I have enjoyed and that I recommend you see or read:

  • Dhobi Ghat. The independent movie I saw at TIFF last year, you can read my review here, that featured characters from different walks of life (poor, rich, American, Indian) and looked at the way their cultures both meshed and clashed together.  Of course this reminded me of The Secret Daughter as Shai, one of the main characters, is an Indian-born American who is in town to document and tell the story of the poor working in the city, as well as to learn more about herself. Pretty similar to Asha.
  • The Namesake. The book (better than the movie) follows a young man as he learns to understand what his parents went through to move to the US to give their family a better life. We follow along as he learns what it’s like to leave everything you know behind, to try to adapt to a culture that doesn’t understand your own, and watch your children grow up in a world so different from what you know.

This was a very long review, but I’d love to hear what you thought of The Secret Daughter or even Dhobi Ghat or The Namesake. Let me know in the comments below.

Rating: 4/5.