Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More TOC: A New Definition of Books

Bob Stein, executive director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, opened Tuesday at O’Reilly’s Tools for Change conference calling for a redefinition of the book. In a talk entitled “A book is a place…” Stein argued that the traditional conception of a book as an object “used to move ideas around time and space” is no longer accurate.

He argued that a reader’s ability to comment on a text suggests that the hierarchy between the writers and readers is false. By commenting on a text, either scribbled in a bound book or as a comment posted online to a digital text, the readers places him or herself in a parallel role to that of the author.
Stein proposed the new definition of a book should be “a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate.”

“A book obscures the social relations that underlie a book. They are much more a social experience than we realize,” he said. In this conception of the book, writing is a collaborate event. Authors will no longer sit alone conceiving of a book entirely on their own. Nonfiction authors “become leaders of communities of inquiry” and fiction writers will be “creating a world together with their readers.” Books will, he suggests, be created transparently and collaboratively, largely online, with the participation of readers.

In this brave new world, the key role of publishers “is to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and tend to their readers.” They will be judged on their ability to “curate and build communities for their authors around their readers.”

Stein said that it is likely his grandchildren will think of reading entirely as social experience. “The idea of reading alone…they won’t even understand that concept.”

Reprinted from Publishers Weekly

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