Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Brave New World: 2020 Vision in Digital Book World (Part 3)

Presentation to the Seoul International Book Fair, Seoul, South Korea, May 2010

Part 4 A Leap into the Future

What about the longer term?

What will the third decade of the millennium look like? Technology will increasingly impact everything and the technology divide across the globe will become a big challenge. Technology will enable us to move into a virtual world, get instant communication, create new communities, explore and even see what we could never imagine possible before. But what will this mean to our access to and interface to information, media and storytelling?

1. Greater choice

Today our views, interests and cultural awareness is restricted by what we can find and access, how we access it, what we can do with it and how we use it.Interestingly, we are shaped more by what we don’t know, than by what we do know.

Media is a classic example of where the technology and cultural restriction to information and content can narrow our perspective and thereby who we are.Someone who grew up in the 50s did not have the capability or access to the rich variety of music that existed then. Their taste was dictated by what and who they knew and could hear. Today, we all have access to just about every conceivable genre, taste and also every manifestation of any work every produced. This opportunity has been created by technology.

However, the way in which we discover, access, experience and form opinions on music is varied and often haphazard. As a result everyone’s taste is more eclectic and the music industry now has to support a rich variety of taste. Genre and sub genre are still important but people expect access to a width and depth of range of music.
So does the biggest aggregator of information and media win the future by simply ‘slicing and dicing’ it into verticals?

Some will suggest that the publisher should own vertical spaces. We would suggest that we first have to define the term ‘publisher’ and second, we have to accept collaboration and cooperation is now a given.

Aggregation is not about content as we knew it yesterday, but about referential links, contextual information and about virtual aggregation. Google doesn’t hold or own every piece of information, just the indexes and links to every piece of information. Do you only need one Google? No, as Google indexes it one way, there will be others who will index and provide and present value differently.

2. Ownership will be redefined

Do we all have to own our media and have libraries of CDs, DVDs and books? Do physical bookshelves still define who we are, or are they mere decorative features?

Cloud computing and high speed mobile bandwidth will break the old ownership paradigm. People will still collect media but the majority of media will be on demand, in real time and be shared.

3. The User Interface

Our interaction with the simplest of technology is not natural.
If voice recognition apps work on a mobile phone today, why do I have to key in instructions to my PC?

We would urge all who have not watched Pranav Mistry on his views on our technology future, to watch it. It shows what is possible and what he is developing today in the MIT labs and what will be mainstream tomorrow.

His technology:

takes pictures using fingers to form the lens

enables the naked wrist to be used as a watch

the hand to become a keypad

project interactive information over an image

play interactive games on a piece of paper and to project images onto any surface

manipulates data and control other devices, wirelessly in real time

Mistry redefines the user interface in ways which are compelling and that frees us from; the screen, the keypad and even the touch screen. In doing so, he will enable humans to interact intuitively with technology in the future.

We already have the Bluetooth earpiece for the mobile. Why not the chip in the ear? Will we bypass the screen and read direct via imposed images on the retina of the eye?

We often think of huge leaps forward as impossible. When we see the sci fi programs such as Dr Who where he reads a printed book by flicking the pages, we think that would be impossible. However when we watch a video of the technology actually scanning a book at great speed today in a Japanese labs in the University of Tokyo we have to wonder just how long before we can do it for ourselves?

Those who believe that we are going to interface with technology in the same way as we do today are in for some surprises. In the very near future intuitive human interfaces will become mainstream. We don’t advocate that we will all become ‘Six Million Dollar’ bionic men but recognise that the technology will exist and its adaptation is inevitable.

4. We will connect the dots

We are now entering an era where bandwith and connectivity become ubiquitous. This removes the network as a constraint and opens up the potential to do anything, anywhere, anytime. We will connect and integrate anything in real time, which changes how we will develop business systems and applications, how we will store and access data and how we will consume media.

Knowing every click and every detail about who and when it occurred gives us both opportunities and many social challenges. The greatest challenge facing us is ‘privacy’ and how we will marry knowing everything against the temptation to exploit it in ways that go too far and are not in the public interest.

5. There is Copyright

Today we have a Rights business with no registry and we express rights as we have for many years. The problem is that technology is now fundamentally changing how we interact with intellectual property (content).

US legal professor Larry Lessig explains that the rights conflict we now face is far more fundamental than the enforcement of yesterday’s rights. He claims that we now have a user generated content culture that is being accelerated by new technology. This culture embraced by the younger generation encourages them to remix, repurpose content and represent if differently. He asks whether this fair use, or piracy.
Lessig believes that it is the democratisation of creation. He finds that the older generation ‘watched’ TV and ‘listened’ to music, the younger generation ‘makes’ or ‘remixes’ TV and music. As this generation grows older, common sense needs to prevail and common licensing needs to be adopted.

We expect that ‘common sense’ will prevail and digital content will be better licensed and controlled. The impact on the media industry and digital content will be significant and may well start to redefine publishing as we know it today. It will also impact on creator royalties and reward structure.

6. Publishers

Will publisher size still matter in the new world and will the economies of scale and scope still dictate? Will there be 6 major publishing trade houses or 600?

Today’s big publishers are relative trainees in the wider media and technology markets. As media merges, publishers will increasingly be measured not by the size of yesterday’s market, but by the wider and much larger market.

This would automatically suggest that multi media conglomerates such as HarperCollins and Bertelsmann could succeed if they organised themselves appropriately. However, turning round a battleship in a storm may not be as easy as turning a dinghy.
We believe that the number of ‘publishers’ will explode with more authors choosing to self publish.

What will be the role of the publisher in the new world?
The market will always value selection, review, validation and aggregation but general trade genre such as fiction may be less interested in valuing quality and more about presentation.

Everyone could be a publisher but the skills now need to be cross media. We believe that tomorrow publishers will pool resources and skills such as technology and the size of the organisation will shrink dramatically. The publisher will become the packager, the agent, the sponsor, the producer, the ‘manager’.

What we envisage in the future is a move from the corporate to the passion and veracity of the past. It will be a new age of publishing, driven by those with the taste, passion and enthusiasm to spot and nurture talent and the conviction and belief to publish in a more ‘hands on’ and entrepreneurial manner.

They will know what will work digitally and what will work physically. They will be able to see the media opportunities and have the social and technical infrastructure to support them. They will not need the corporate support infrastructure of today. This shift will ensure we arrest the dumbing down of literature by the corporate and technology businesses of today.

Once again we find ourselves drawn the the words of Arthur C. Clarke, ‘In the short term, we tend to overestimate technology and in the long term, we tend to underestimate technology.’

To read the full revised Brave New World report online

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Interesting stuff. The weird thing is we've already had the technology boom when it comes to information, it's called the internet. The first big boom was in the early nineties and mainly consisted of huge amounts of data being made available online. The second boom was around a decade later and was defined by increased interactivity - much as I hate the phrase, "Web 2.0". The weird thing is, books weren't really a part of the boom. Yes, Project Gutenberg has been around for nearly forty years, and we've had handheld reading devices (albeit with nasty reflective screens) for nearly as long, so what's suddenly changed?

I'd suggest it's partly public perception, and partly the fact that cameras, scanners and OCR software are now cheaply available, making book piracy (especially textbooks) a major issue. We're looking at a future where content will be digitised, it's just going to be a question of whether it's the publishers or the pirates in control of that digitisation. It's going to be interesting...