Frankly Speaking: Frank Thoughts at the Digital Book Conference

Frank Romano
Jun 2, 2014

Presented by the International Book Publishing Forum (IBPF) at Book Expo in New York City.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) for E-books is like a chastity belt for print books.

A library is a big building with a lot of books; but there are new libraries with no books.

What do you call a library without any print books? A hard drive.


The only standard for E-books is that they are not standardized.

The invention of the book gave us random access over the scroll. Early computers required that you scrolled through a book; today you can page through a book. Or listen to a book. Or watch a book. Or interact with a book.

The number of 17-year olds who have not read a book for pleasure has tripled in the last decade.

The transition from print to digital has slowed; print book volumes have stabilized; E-book sales are decelerating. For now.

E-book content can also be text-to-speech. It’s like paper that talks to you. For ALL CAPS, it yells. If you use the font Comic Sans, it laughs.

Video is paper that sings and dances.

Putting video into E-books is like putting captions into movies. I thought oldtime silent movies lost out to talkies.

I am old enough to have grown up with radio and early TV. Radio required that you use your imagination. The TV Lone Ranger was not as interesting as my mental picture of him.

Reading the printed word uses that little radio in your head. Audio books eschew the eye and go right to ear.

In the eye-brain loop, the impedence value of paper engenders retention. Sounds pedagogic. Pedagogic sounds pedagogic.

Bookcasting – books released as mass market print, on-demand print, Webcasts, and E-books

Children are switching between media more effortlessly than their parents. They are bi-textual or even tri-textual – print, interactive, and video.

Story-telling, gaming, and reading are now inter-related.

We are seeing the decline of text and the rise of the image, static or moving.

In 1984, a major study on the future of print predicted that the challenge to print would be a screen of some kind and memory of some kind.

Screens are available in every size from the eyeglass-mounted Google Glass to smart phones, to tablets, to phablets, to laptops, to desktops, to wall-sized flat screens. You are never far from a digital image.

Television will become just another Web app.

The cloud is nothing more than a server farm in West Virginia connected to the Web run by a chimpanzee on roller skates.

Human memory will be under-utilized because of search engines. Why remember anything when you can Google it. Bing it? I may Google Bing or Bing Google.

There is data. Maybe there is also anti-data, the antithesis of data, like the Congressional Record.

There is still a lot of reading going on, no matter what the medium.

The print book as we know it is based on the whims of a handful of national book buyers. The E-revolution was more about the freedom to publish and the rise of the self-publisher.

A panel of three author/publishers revealed that they had multi-million dollar incomes. At $5.99 per E-book!

They admitted that they make more money with the on-demand print version of their books than the E-book version.

Amazon acquired Goodreads which links readers and authors. I wonder if reclusive author JD Salinger would have ever responded to my question.

Social media is as much a promoter of books as book signings. (Type)FaceBook?

We were told that term “Digital Book” was preferred over E-Book. But a Digital Book could be a digitally-printed book, where an E-Book is screen-based. Then you have E-Paper which is really a screen. So let’s call paper “Pixel-less Screens.”

The textbook as we know it is probably not long for this world.

The most profound statement I heard was: The future is something we have not thought of. But there are always clues that reveal pieces of the future and, if you listened carefully, this conference had a lot of clues.

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