Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Michael Korda: "technology leaps ahead and people simply adapt to it"

The dire predictions that doom the future of the printed word seem to mount daily. Not to worry: book publishing will adapt in ways undreamed of, and with a quickness that will be astonishing.
That's the hopeful forecast in this interview with Michael Korda, author and former editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster, who's well aware that the book business will respond to the commercial expectations of readers as it always has, even as the idea of "the book" itself changes. He thinks that the role of small-press publishers, always precarious, will benefit from technology in the next five years with "a media that's open to everybody ... how they'll make money, I don't know. But then, how do they make money now?'
Korda offers a future business model based on the recent history of the music industry: "Nobody would have guessed that people would be downloading individual songs onto their computers and that record stores would disappear. So, you know, a very similar thing is going to happen to reading." The complete online interview by Rob Couteau, excerpted here, is in Raintaxi.
RC: You were saying the form itself is not so important; it’s the book that’s important, and we can’t compare the book in its present form to an electronic book, like the Kindle, but we have to apply our imagination to it much further, in that it might become something that’s just beyond anything we can imagine today.

MK: Well, I think that that’s true. You know, you’re looking at the Model T Ford and trying to predict what road transportation will be like in 2010 . . . ultimately, it’ll still have four wheels, and some form of propulsion, and a steering wheel, but beyond that, you’re trying to imagine something which is beyond imagination, if you see what I mean.

Now, there are two important differences. One is that the speed of progress is now so rapid, and transition is so quick, that the next step in reading-technology will come very rapidly, rather than very slowly. So that there’s not going to be a long lag between its inception and its development, and any changes that take place. Already, the iPad is a huge step ahead of the Kindle. Although whether it’s a useful step ahead for readers remains to be seen. ... it’s a rather large and cumbersome device, which needs to be replaced with something altogether different. But that is going to happen with such incredible rapidity that we really can’t forecast what it will look like. guess is that, in ten years time, it will be in place and that nobody will have a problem with it. It’s just amazing the degree to which things are changing rapidly.

RC: There are a lot of people who say, “Well, I would miss the feel of the book.” But if you really unleash your imagination, it’s actually quite easy to imagine how digital book producers could appeal to the tactile sense; it doesn’t have to be just a visual innovation.

MK: Yeah, no doubt. But you know, I don’t have a clue. The person to talk to about that is Steve Jobs. [Laughs] Because unless he dies first, he’ll probably be the one who will invent it. But it’ll be something quite different. But I don’t think that that’s in any case something that one should be afraid of. People react the same way about a whole variety of things, ranging from smoking cigarettes to using typewriters or fountain pens. But nevertheless, the technology leaps ahead and people simply adapt to it. ...

RC: But other things, other businesses, will be created.

MK: Right. ... The book will continue to be a major factor for as, certainly as long as I live, and maybe as long as you live. But eventually it’s going, in the form of something else.

RC: What about the future of publishing?

MK: It will have to be reinvented with that in mind. Already, I think it’s evident that the major publishers are looking to find a partner in Apple, (and it) will become, in effect, a kind of publishing house. How that will work remains to be seen. There isn’t anyone in the book publishing business who can tell you, because nobody knows at this point in time. But that’s what everybody is clearly attempting to move towards. ...

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