Last year, I read Cory Doctorow’s provocative collected essays on copyfighting, eInk and everything to do with the Internet, Content, and I’ve been thinking back over it and the issues involved quite a lot since then. Among other things, Doctorow certainly raises some questions in my mind about what exactly the typical bookstore will look like in 5 or 10 years. (Indeed, I think of this blog as being partially a result of the metaphorical kick in the pants Doctorow’s book gave me.)
My take on our collective future after reading Content is that if bookstores are around as a third place, they’ll probably be as much virtual as physical, with our role as booksellers morphing into ubercool facilitators of chatspace, book group discussion leaders, and witty remixers of text, creating one-of-a-kind memes to monetize as T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, animated smileys for MyFace pages (I jest, MySpace & Facebook will probably be long gone), etc. All meatspace book discussion may be fueled by high-priced, literary themed caffeine shots — and the caffeine may be the primary thing customers come into the bricks-n-mortar store in search of. Book shopping may be actively moving to primarily online activity (i.e. the researching, interacting with booksellers and ordering may all ultimately occur online (digitally mediated by text, email & tweet), the book pick up achieved at the same time readers perform their ritual caffeine worshiping on the way to work, and their post-perusal hit of book talk will be realized on their blog or through the bookstore’s online discussion group/listserv/MyFace pages). (Yes, ebooks will have a large part in any bookseller’s future, but that’s an issue that needs its own post.)
Thankfully, Doctorow doesn’t predict a disappearance of the physical book, nor the bookstore itself. Instead, he sees the book as being more of a raw material for social connection (along with TV, movies, gaming, etc.), something to be read, then commented upon, remade as an online video, adapted for a skateboard design theme, and blogged about, excerpted as an email signature, and used in ways we haven’t thought of yet. This is how we’ve always used culture, it’s just on a different scale now because of the ease of creation and sharing made possible by the worldwide web. So you can look at it as technology rescuing the book from being a marginalized, fairly exclusive product — one too often placed on a pedestal. Perhaps the power of the web could rescue the book from (relative) obscurity (when compared to movies or TV), but change the reverence with which it’s often treated. Which I think suggests that the bookstore as a relatively separate, peaceful place (or place to find A Separate Peace) will change dramatically, both in terms of the physical use of the space and also in terms of the disappearance of clear boundaries between the store and the rest of the world.
You can download the book for free from the author’s website, but I suspect you’ll want to make notes, dog-ear pages and generally engage with the text, so I urge you to support both your local indie bookstore and Cory Doctorow by buying a physical copy.