Thursday, June 26, 2008

Link-Mad Thursday: Futurebook

Listening to NPR this morning I had a little jolt: they were talking about the intersection of the internet and books, but not from a book industry point of view. As part of an ongoing series on the effects the internet has had on the culture of China, this piece highlights the growth of Chinese online publishing: chapters selling for a few cents each. It's not political writing, but mysteries and romance that are breaking out of the traditional, party-run publishing mold. And it's mostly young writers, as you'd expect. The kicker? All those kids publishing online really just want to get into print.

There is some good news for people who like actual books made of paper. Fu and most other Chinese writers still want to see their books in print. Happily for them, publishers increasingly look to the Internet to find the most popular books.

City of Books, Shanghai's largest book store, takes up six stories, and more and more, books that first showed up on the Internet are turning up on the shelves there. As Fu Tian walks around the store, the books that catch her eye are often by friends.

"The Ghost Blows Out the Light!" she exclaims. "It used to be the biggest hit on the Xidian Web site, and it's being made into a movie."

Of course, Fu hopes that one of her books will get made into a film. She's very excited: This fall, she'll have her own first book on the shelves.

Now there's an interesting take on the whole digitization issue, from the country that looks to be defining a lot of worldwide trends in the future.

And dude, what would you give to get a tour of City of Books?

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While you're at the NPR site, check out their Summer Books page, gathering lots of recent book-related content together. One of the newest great things I've discovered is Book Tour: a series of podcasts recorded primarily in independent bookstores like Politics & Prose. Andrew Sean Greer's The Story of a Marriage and Leif Enger's So Brave, Young and Handsome are among my recent favorites being read here; I haven't heard those authors read for an audience, and now I can, since their one-time live event has been digitally preserved. Perhaps another clue to the future of the book (and the bookstore) in the internet age?

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Finally, the guru of literary sci-fi prognostication, author and Boing Boing creator Cory Doctorow, has a story on "The Future of the Bookstore" commissioned by UK magazine The Bookseller. The story is available online, but in a very annoying, too-small-to-read format, which you can only really see by downloading it page by page (thanks to Bookninja for the tip and the format warning). It's free, but almost as difficult to get your eyeballs on as the underground, passed-around books of the present/future it posits. But Doctorow's speculations are always fun, and some of his character's analysis is right on:

“Back then, bookshops were practically the only place you could get a book. Oh, sure, the newsagents might carry a few titles, but they were the same titles, all around the country. Bookshops are fine if you already love books, but how do you fall in love with books? Where does it start? There have to be books everywhere, in places where you go before you know you’re a reader. That was the secret.”
“So how’d he do it?” ...
“I’ll tell you how,” Arthur said again, clearly enjoying the chance to unfurl one of his old, well-oiled stories. “It was all about connecting kids up with their local neighbourhoods and the tastes there. Kids know what their friends want to read. We had them curate their own anthologies of the best, most suitable material from The Story So Far, put all that local knowledge to work. The right book for the right person in the right place. You’ve got to give them a religious experience before you can lure them into coming to church regular.”
Hmmm.... localism, adaptation, selling books where people want to hang out, recruiting young readers. Sounds like a recipe for a future bookstore to me.

I know I've asked this before, but humor me. What do YOU think is the recipe for the future bookstore -- for success five, ten, fifty years from now?