The Digital Age

I love bookstores. I can lose myself in one for hours. It was one of the many things the two and a half hours away girl and I enjoyed together. A love of books is a requirement of a girlfriend/wife in my life.

With the news that Borders and now possibly Barnes and Noble are in danger of closing stores, I continue to worry about the long term viability of the old fashioned bookstore. Shopping online is convenient, but terribly sterile. Reading a book as a PDF on your laptop, iPhone or Kindle/Sony Reader doesn’t quite have the same cache as cracking open the paperback.

However, the future looms large. Recently, Google will be making copyrighted works searchable and available online. This might actually kill the used book market and could have an adverse affect on lending libraries. I’m not sure how this might affect Amazon.

Plus, the next leap isn’t that hard of one to make: every book ever published instantly available for download to your laptop, phone, ebook reader or other device. Taking it one step further, click a button and instantly have a print-on-demand hard copy sent to your home.

This is the future of creative work – available online for free, free with advertising or at a massive reduced price point with an option to pay more for a hardcopy. The model works for printed materials of all kinds. Music, movies and television shows are already available online. It will be an easy step to make hard copies on demand for those that want to own the packaging or the extras beyond just the songs, movie or episode. The same thing is now moving forward with books. I foresee newspapers, comic books and all sorts of niche printed materials being available like this.

Radiohead made a ton of cash with their online music experiment. Freakangels by Warren Ellis is already online as a free weekly comic, but has recently been collected into an actual print and ink graphic novel for sale. I expect Joss Whedon and the Dr. Horrible Sing-A-Long Blog crew made some green through Hulu and iTunes and will make more with the inevitable DVD release. The market is there and the tech is almost there to make purchase-on-demand a reality.

With Google and Apple leading the way, the technology will expand and become even more commonplace and ubiquitous. Movie theaters, music retailers, comic book shops, movie rental businesses, bookstores and dozens of other retail outlets and business models may go the way of the dodo.

This paradigm shift is slowly happening. Add in universal broadband and net neutrality and this happens even faster.

While all of this is pretty cool and cutting edge, I still love going to the movies and strolling through a bookstore. I wonder if the social nature of movie theaters and bookstores, for example, doesn’t become the focus? Turning a movie theater into a social gathering place? Now that’s an interesting business model.