One Way the Web Will Change the Book

MUD day 6:

New-media enthusiasts, myself included, sometimes talk as though print is dying. That’s a strategic exaggeration, of course. No form of media is ever killed off by another. Rather, each new form of media transforms those that came before it, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. Consider for instance how painting was changed—even liberated—by photography, turning, in response, to new modes of expression like impressionism and cubism.

A Lesser Photographer by C. J. ChilversIn a similar way, I think, books will be liberated by digital media. That will happen in part because technology frees print from its reliance on paper and traditional, expensive production methods. But it will also happen because print will react and respond to the new forms of digital media, and function in new ways. Our very idea of what constitutes a book will be redefined.

One modest but telling example comes from the latest Tips from the Top Floor podcast, hosted by photographer Chris Marquardt. In it, he interviews C.J. Chilvers about his PDF book, A Lesser Photographer: 10 Principles for Rediscovering What Matters.

Chilvers observed that its length, just 25 pages, has prompted other authors he knows to ask “where’s the rest of it?” They argued that each of his 10 principles could be backed up with enough evidence and examples to make a much longer work. But, Chilvers said, “I feel that’s what the blog is for.”

There’s nothing new about pamphlet-length books, nor is the manifesto a new genre. But what does seem new to me is the way the Web has made it possible, even desirable, to distill what would otherwise be longer books into their essence, while offering other media to back it up, and provide the substance many readers will want.

I can’t say there will be fewer books in the future—in fact, their number may grow. But I feel certain that they will, on the whole, be shorter—and more useful.