Isn't It Time to Make Books Obsolete?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because we’d love #disrupters to advance this industry.
By Sanjena Sathian
Golden Krishna was an accidental author. A former Samsung designer sitting at the intersection of art and technology, his journey into publishing began with a blog post, ramped up at a talk given at SXSW and ended in a manifesto about design for the modern era. The manifesto is full of mock-ups and images of how websites might look in his dream world, with illustrations of your smartphone home screen.
So it’s somewhat ironic that this mission statement about the future of design — written largely for people in the industry who live and breathe “user experience” jargon — lives in a book. That quaint, paper-and-ink thing, bound, with a cover and spine. As it turns out, Krishna is one of many Silicon Valley-ites who, despite their insistence on disrupting almost every industry out there, have yet to disrupt the classic publishing world. For this, we’ll take them to task. If you believe you have a message worth spreading, and you claim to be at the forefront of the future, why not dispense with print (dying or already dead, we’re told) and pave the way for the future of book publishing too?
That, Krishna confesses, “is a question I ask myself almost every day.” But the old-fashioned book was good for his career. Even if you won’t find many unicorns on bookstore shelves these days, it’s nice to have a complete, in-depth project in existence. People still “like the feeling” of a book in their hands, points out Jeffrey Zeldman, a Web designer, author and owner of a tech book publishing company. Sounds like a surprisingly nostalgic statement for someone who authored Designing With Web Standards. Yet data from the publishing world supports that notion: Last year, just four years after Borders went under, the Association of American Publishers found that paperbacks remain the most popular form of books; e-book sales dipped a little in 2014 and haven’t grown massively since.
That doesn’t mean things won’t advance, and quickly. Amy Brand, director of MIT Press, tells us that for technical books, a companion Web page often accompanies the hardcover. Zeldman adds that, in line with open-source techie culture, he sometimes releases a section of a book online under Creative Commons, which teases readers into shelling out for the full thing.
If you ask Krishna, he’ll tell you the whole game is a lot more complicated than just a battle between print and digital. In case you were wondering, his book is titled The Best Interface Is No Interface — it’s all about how screens aren’t the only medium designers should think about. And his talk at SXSW, which he estimates more than 1,500 people attended, certainly touched a vein in the industry. Maybe the best thing tech can do for publishing isn’t disrupting it but marrying the past to the future.