The End of the Book

The current ebook's days are numbered. Just as DVDs now contain "extras" involving audio commentary, outtakes, and so on – to provide added value for purchasers – ebooks are going to have to follow suit. In a matter of months, readers are no longer going to be content to read simple text on their electronic device. They're going to want multiple hyperlinks, videos, and audio (the author talking, an interview with the editor, etc.) as a way of experiencing the book in a "richer" way. That means that publishers will have to hook up with multimedia companies or bring them in-house and have them involved in the ebook's production from the outset.

Naturally, this poses a big challenge to small publishers. We're going to have to be smarter, and offer more specialized skills and products in order to survive. However, as consumers of entertainment content, we're quite excited about the future. Let us give you an idea of what we're talking about, by offering you a vision: one, I think, that will be realized within the decade.

You will own a device that not only is wireless, but (through the provision of 3-D spectacles or special holographic imaging), offers a multidimensional experience. You purchase a book and download it. You press the screen button marked Read on the machine, and you can read the simple text (like you do today), or, with the provision of the 3-D/holograph, you actually have the book in front of you, of which you can "turn" the pages. If you want something a little more interactive, you can press/touch the button marked Link. Up comes the text with multiple hyperlinks that "pop-up" on the "screen" (in 3-D/holographic space).

You press the button marked Audio and the "book" not only becomes an audiobook, but at certain points in the text – which you can still follow – by pressing a word (perhaps the text is a different color), a recording of somebody (perhaps a sound effect or voice of the author) provides a little "added value" to the paragraph.

You press the button denoted Video and within your visual field pop up—at moments controlled by you (much as in the same way as the "audio" button)—filmed clips of the author speaking, or pictures that show the scene unfolding (from a movie or perhaps a set of still photographs). The result is that no book need be unillustrated again.

But still you want more: you press the button 3-D Movie, and, instead of a flat, one-dimensional screen, you find yourself within the book. Say you're reading about Ancient Egypt: you click "3-D Movie" and you're suddenly in the Valley of the Kings, with the voice of an actor reading the text to you, the book itself to one side, scrolling through the text, and perhaps the imagined sound of Ancient Egyptian music filling your ears.

Finally, you press the button Share. You are connected via the web and your social media services with anyone in the world who is accessing this same program, allowing you to take virtual tours with them. Through Skype or Second Life or some similar service, you or your "avatar" can join them as you comment on and share thoughts about this experience.

The result is a multidimensional, multimedia, immersive experience—controlled entirely by you. The book's boundaries have exploded; the imagination is expanded and not constrained; knowledge is increased; and the isolation of reading removed. And yet, by clicking "Read" alone, you can return to your own world whenever you wish.

In my view, this technology will allow for the possibility of much more engagement with civilizations and cultures past and present. However, like most technologies, this new form of "reading" can be used for ill or good, for bringing people together or pushing them further into atomized states of singleness. Whichever way it's used, however, it's going to happen.