The funny thing is, books have been technologically disrupted plenty of times! Scratching glyphs on ox bones and baked clay was replaced with papyrus and parchment because they weigh less. Scrolls were replaced with codices because they packed more words into less space and were easier to search. Wood-pulp paper as we have it today was reached after hundreds of years in experimentation to find the right balance of sturdy, supple, and affordable. Paperbacks were a trashy novelty until they became an indispensable part of publishing. Ebook readers allow you to search and index at the speed of the electron.

All of these were easier ways to store, reproduce, read long strings of words with occasional pictures. Making hybrid movie/game kludges of code vaguely shaped like books gets you very far from this basic process that readers have enjoyed since Gilgamesh. One might suspect that these disruptors don't actually like books and the written word very much. But that would ridiculous!

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24Liked by Lincoln Michel

So I want to agree with this... But I feel like the book has been disrupted, just not in the ways that ebook peddlers expected. I would argue that audiobooks and podcasts have transformed what we think of as reading and what people will consider to be "books" in the future.

All of this is anecdotal of course. But every semester I have at least one and usually more than one student -- not visually impaired and choosing to study creative writing -- who opts to listen to assigned texts (especially novels) rather than reading them on the page. Of course this is shaping how they think about writing and what they think works. When I talk to friends and family about their reading habits, I frequently hear that they are consuming what books they do seek out via Audible, often while doing other tasks. Again, this is of course shaping their experience of these works. Audiobooks existed before, but smartphones and earbuds have made them ubiquitous to a new and far greater extent.

And that means that podcasts, which are deliberately designed for this format, have some natural advantages when it comes to competing for our attention. When books are being playful or experimental, they might innovate with form, using typography, footnotes, verse, etc. None of that translates easily to audio. When podcasts are being playful, they use music, sound effects, sound clips -- and they consistently feature multiple voices, whether those are of interviewees or actors. If we want to write books that are interchangeable in quality between page and audio, we are either going to need to start doing two versions of each work, one tailored for each format, or change the way we write in the first place. That feels like a disruption to me.

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I feel like I should write something thoughtful here, but the only thing I have to say right now is thank you. I really enjoyed reading this and I completely agree with you.

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Love your astute observation on the software vs Ai marketing ploy.

Just saw Avatar last night at a 3D Imax and loved the visual spectacle of it all. I actually have a 3D tv in an Airbnb I own and I love using it too. Feels fancy, like almost as good as a home movie theater.

But I’m also the person who wishes Netflix worked for real on my Oculus Rift. I just want to be inside the movie. Lol.

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Of course, as you write, "the book is still a pretty good piece of tech all these centuries later." Absolutely. It's that term "disruption" that disrupts the conversation. Let's leave the book as it. It works. Lots of people love 'em. For good reason.

But what do you make of, for example, Wattpad (and the many other serial fiction startups?). Their sites don't feature books, per se, but they feature book-length writing, and book-style narrative, in a form that's not printed between covers, nor sold in bookstores. And they often have hundreds of thousands of readers.

Here's "Eternal Obsession." (https://www.wattpad.com/story/297650842-eternal-obsession). OK, it's a romance, trashy by our standards. But it has 745,000 reads on Wattpad. I don't have a word count, but it takes 10-1/2 hours to read, so it's novel-length. Will we reject that as not, at least, an alternative to the book as we think of it? Ask 745,000 people what they think of our scorn.

Books aren't being disrupted. Instead reading will be (further) augmented by differing media formats (some of them print-based). And that's OK with me.

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I think it's maybe telling that webcomics, which hypothetically could have all these features, largely don't. And it's probably also telling that the few successful ones that have done so (Homestuck, and, um... Ava's Demon was hot for a minute or two?) have been team efforts. The bottleneck there isn't the capacity for multimedia, it's the labor that multimedia requires.

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A dear friend of mine is a teacher in a small remote school. She has trouble getting supplies there and even crowdfunded a printer for all their students materials.

I then decided to help, and wrote a nice letter to an ebook device company, in which I remind them that their 10 year old device, can be made for a fraction of the cost now and will still perform as a great ebook reader, which unlike a smartphone doesn't even need software updates.

If something like this were to happen, we could have an education disruption because now everyone could have accessibility to books and homework materials on a small slate that has weeks of battery power and doesnt even need an internet connection to carry all their might.

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Really great piece, Lincoln. You're right on the money in your analysis and conclusions. And very well-written too. Bravo.

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“The crypto crowd is too busy focusing on “disrupting” the legal system to keep themselves out of jail to innovate the novel, I guess.” As a crypto skeptic I laughed way too hard at that.

Also a lot of the disruptions these people are talking about are already being done with tools we already have. Twine, for example, seems to have a thriving niche community of weirdo interactive fiction.

I read about an experimental novel coming out that in some ways *is* disrupting the book, called Dark Factory: https://spinemagazine.co/articles/b2e-kathe-koja

The author and publisher are trying to create a whole multimedia experience with the novel itself as a jumping off point. And the series of interviews goes in-depth with the designer, agent etc. to see what that looks like, and how they’re building this very specific and intensive model of audience participation. And it’s a really cool project! But it’s notable that unlike all of these crypto yahoos, Koja is conducting this experiment because it fits *her* vision for this one, specific book. She’s leaning into the actual fun and experimentation of it instead of trying to jerk around the latest crowd of suckers.

Can we bring fun back into tech advancement and not whatever this schlock is?

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