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April 30, 2009
Can Tim O'Reilly Re-Invent the Book?
In today's O'Reilly Radar column, Tim tackles the notion of how one might re-invent the book. Whether or not one thinks this medium is in need of re-invention there's no doubt that the book publishing industry is continuing to upheave, and possibly at a faster rate. If newspapers really are a dying publishing form does that mean that books are next?
And if so, does that mean we should wave bye-bye or should we attempt to re-imagine how large chunks of idea will be communicated from (or between) an author and a mass literate audience? Personally I think we ought to do that latter, regardless of whether or not we think the book will survive. As I've argued before, new art forms are emerging and creators need to embrace and extend the opportunities available to them. Existing writers should continue to break out new experiments, and O'Reilly points out ways that his print press has done some of that.
There is some question as to whether these new things are "books" as we've come to understand them, but let's leave aside labeling for the moment and consider them as a form of creative expression. To make these expressions in new media requires new skills - O'Reilly talks about things like "crowdsourcing" for example - and audiences will need to find ways to acquire, appreciate, and respond to these new forms.
So, no, I don't think Tim (or any one organization) can re-invent something as fundamental as the book. We have over a thousand years of evolution of that art form already in hand and that millenium won't be toppled quickly. But collectively, yes, I do believe that we can employ new technologies to re-invent the book. Right now I'm watching my boys delve into comics and devour graphic novels the way I did as a child. I'm certain that what they give to their children as "books" will be different than what I'm passing down to them, but it will be something additional, not a full replacement.
Also, don't miss the essay by Bruce Sterling on "Design Fiction" that O'Reilly links to. Yes, it discusses the origins of scifi writing, but it's about so much more.
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