by Kelly Gallucci and Natalie Zutter)
Ebooks are the future of books, but what about the future of reading? Silent (or Topless!) Reading Parties change the way we read with each other, while speed-reading apps such as Spritz challenge our brains to process words even faster. And let's not forget how wearable books allow us to tap directly into characters' emotions. Thanks to the Internet and these innovative forms of book tech, "social reading" takes on an increasingly nuanced meaning.
In the age of Tumblr and Twitter, readers are finding that it's easier than ever to interact quickly and easily with their favorite authors. Innovators in the industry recognize this trend and note that it'll only grow from here. Several cite author Hugh Howey as an inspiration for where the future of reader/author interactions can go. "Howey forms powerful, organic connections with his readers," Danny Fein, CEO and Founder of Litographs, says. "In stark contrast to the static, informational author websites of the past, Howey's web platform allows readers to interact with each other, contribute fan fiction and art, and download books directly."
Before his website dazzled readers, Howey was being celebrated for representing the different opportunities that digital publishing presents. The author originally published his novel Wool in novelette-sized chunks, eventually releasing them in full. "I'm excited to see writers and publishers… create work specifically for this new medium," says Margot Atwell, Publishing Community Manager at Kickstarter. "Books conceived for the digital sphere might be very different from their print counterparts. I can imagine everything changing, from cover design to length to frequency of publication and even more."
Not just the books should change, many believe; so should the communities around them. "Current events highlight the dangers of there being only a handful of major players who control the relationship of readers to books," says Zola Books CEO Joe Regal. (Full disclosure: Zola Books is Bookish's parent company.) "In the digital world, where everyone can broadcast their taste and benefit from it, it's crazy that readers are tied to specific retailers and their devices. Fortunately, technology doesn't have to trap readers in closed and airless ecosystems; digital tools can enable every passionate book advocate to have a voice—whether author or publisher, independent bookseller or reader."
One of those tools is, of course, the Zola Books social reading app, which serves readers on both iPhones/iPads and Android devices. Regal also points to social writing sites like Wattpad and subscription sites including Oyster and Scribd as examples of diverse and exciting ecosystems—though he notes that brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes & Noble will continue to play an important role. "The ways that people discover and share books," he says, "are only beginning to be explored."
Change can be a frightening thing, but many are actively embracing the future of digital books and finding creative ways to ensure that readers favorite aspects—such as signed, personalized messages from authors—remain a part of the reading experience. Autography is already providing loyal readers with this unique opportunity, with authors clamoring to be a part of it.
"I truly believe that signed ebooks are the wave of the future," says Eloisa James, author of Three Weeks With Lady X, who recently participated in an Autography event at Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. "Readers love Autography and its ability to allow me to sign books especially for them, to wish a friend happy birthday, or give a special greeting to a fan." (If that's piqued your interest, Zola Books is holding an Autography event at BookCon this Saturday, May 31, at booth #2763.)
Another indication that the tide is turning is that people talk about reading in the kinds of terms formerly reserved for television. "Discovery-friendly and binge-friendly" is how CITIA CEO Linda Holliday describes her ideal nonfiction reading experience. "The idea that the first chapter is the only promotion in a world of 24/7 conversations seems downright quaint to me. And yes, the category will continue to merge with essays and articles. What were formerly only books will also (and sometimes only), be traveling databases of connected content objects, everywhere and all in one place at the same time."
Jennifer 8. Lee, co-founder of iPhone reading app Rooster also notes how the notions of "books" and "television" converge thanks to digital transformations. "'Books,' or rather written narratives, are getting more episodic and doled out over time," she says. "There is now even appointment reading, when an episode [of] something is free to read for only a limited time. In contrast, television, or 'screen narrative,' is moving in the other direction, embracing binge-watching via subscription services like Netflix, HBOGo, and Hulu. That feels more like experiencing a whole novel and narrative arc." (TV writer and comic book writer Jane Espenson said much the same in an interview with us!)
"Gone are the days where we have to think twice about sampling content," adds Julie Haddon, VP of marketing at Scribd. "It's quickly becoming an all-you-can-read world."
Even those loyal to the humble book can't ignore the desire to be connected to other book lovers, and technology is offering the ability to discuss literature across more platforms than ever before. The days of Sunday book clubs are far from over; in fact, they're keeping up with the times. "We're finally on the forefront of customization when looking for your next read," Haddon says. "Recommendations amongst friends, family, book clubs, and more are evolving and getting smarter thanks to new technology and services."
While many are focusing on the way in which we'll be reading (i.e., the eternal ereader debate), others are thinking more on the content itself. "Most innovation is really going to be in editorial," predicts Michael FitzGerald, CEO of Submittable "I think editorial is a wildly undervalued skill set, and new technologies are going to enable editorial to exist outside existing money structure (i.e., Midtown Manhattan). There's a huge opportunity for independent publishers with strong editorial as product and distribution costs drop."
Considering how quickly technology and social media have advanced in the last few years, it's impossible to truly predict just how far we'll go with new forms of reading. But readers and writers alike know that one thing will never change. Maris Kreizman, Kickstarter's Publishing Community Manager and the creator of the hilarious crossover blog Slaughterhouse 90210, says it best: "Readers will continue to seek out great stories above all else. The definition of what books are and what they can be will continue to evolve, and the ways in which readers find and enjoy them and form communities around them will evolve, too."