The Future of Publishing: A Report from the Year 2026

Due to a temporary flux in the space-time continuum, I received this post from my future nostalgic self, 15 years from now:

Remember the early 2010s, around the end of 2011, when tablet readers took off? Let's review how far we have come in the past 15 years in publishing:

1. Books to ebooks to epaper  

2011 was the year when publishing continued the tectonic shift from dead tree paper books to ebooks. Remember those heated debates between readers who loved the smell and feel of paper and those who embraced the cutting technology of iPads, Kindles, and the like? Now we scoff at all those antiquated means of reading. Most people don't read anymore. Those few who do carry foldable solar-powered epaper with customized feeds and smells. When I read the classics on my epaper, I turn on the musty moldy paper smell and I'm transported back to my youth. 

ZDNet was remarkably prescient about the development of epaper back in early 2011. That was also the year a British firm developed a device that released aromas with tweets. The Atlantic also had a nice article on the 5 things we fear technology will replace, with books on the top of the list. 

what epaper might look like

2. Blogging to microblogging to autoblogging  

Attention spans have diminished, haven't they? Already in 2011, people lost patience with long form blogs and turned to microblogging sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Facebook introduced its Timeline and automatic sharing, which conditioned people to share every aspect of their online life. And now we have services that have truly automated social sharing:
  • Autoblogging epaper: Whenever we shop, read, communicate online or mutter into our earpieces, our activities are automatically organized into articles. These are sorted and aggregated with other feeds and pushed to others' epapers; artificial intelligence find the audience for us. We similarly find tagged items of interest on our own epapers culled from the internetiverse. We trust in the AI to curate our information for us. (As Eli Pariser wrote in The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, back in 2011, Google and Facebook were showing us our own personalized search results and news feeds, effectively censoring dissimilar views and reinforcing the echo chamber of similar communities. His TED video on the topic was excellent.) 
  • Eclothing bulletins: Wirelessly linked to our epapers and phones, our activities are automatically broadcast on the clothing we and our subscribers wear. Of course, scrolling news feeds down our backs and sleeves are so last year. 2027 promises to be more introspective, so the inner linings of coats are where the e-action is. (Early precursors were found back in 2011, such as Think Geek's interactive shirts and CrunchWear's lineup of electronic clothing, wearable tech, and smart clothes)    

3. The demise of the traditional publishing company and author

Publishing and distributing stories is now so ubiquitous and cheap that the traditional publishing companies that we knew back in 2011 have ceased to exist. 
  • Big names like Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Dan Brown still thrive. But most people only know their spin-off franchises (movies, interactive games, and immersive theme parks).
  • Storytellers now write scripts for games, movies, shows, and interactive experiences.  
  • Surprisingly, vanity publishers still find people to pay them for publishing books and paper missives.

4. The traditional world of books still lives in the resale economy and where the digital divide exists  

Even though solar epaper and wireless technology is inexpensive, a large part of the world is still not online or tech-savvy (as is always the case, the accumulation of goods and human capital is politically, not price, dependent). Publishing old-fashioned books is still viable today in the Third World because a large part of the world is still paper based. In the developed world, the only bricks and mortar bookstores that exist are used bookstores. (Danica Radovanovic guest blogged in Scientific American back in 2011 about different types of digital divides, which included not just the lack of access to infrastructure but also to digital literacy, and advocated the use of social media to foster knowledge societies). 

What do you think is in the future of publishing?  Is my future self correct, or will we veer off toward an alternate scenario? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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