Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post: Bruce Seymour on the Next Decade in Book Culture

By Bruce Seymour

As we wind down the “aughts” decade, with digital books galore on the horizon (and the $195 Norton facsimile edition of C.J. Jung's objet d'art/culture The Red Book selling out around the country), the NBCC seeks the best guest posts about the future of book culture, including essays,interviews and free-range opining. The topic: How do you see book culture evolving over the next decade? Bruce Seymour, owner of, offers these thoughts on “digital browse.”

“Just Browsing,” two words which will fade in direct proportion to book profits.  Publishers have the biggest stake in digital.  They can reduce printing costs, distribution infrastructure and take a larger portion of the retail book dollar, all while reducing environmental impact.  The only unknown is how much marketing will it take to equalize the loss of book browsing in big box stores.  Therefore it is likely, net profits will remain flat. The overall book market will shrink, but gross margins will increase.  Net profit won’t grow again until digital browsing infrastructure matches what we have now with retailers.  So it is the culture of book browsing which has to be replaced in order for digital to grow our market.

Another thought. We stand in transition.  Digital book reading today is like surfing the internet in 1993.   It was slow, imaging technologies like LCD, and e-Ink weren’t mainstream and Google wasn’t around.   T,he benefits were limited for most.  Yet we knew there would be more to come. In 1994, Netscape Navigator, the predecessor to current web navigation was released.  Today, web technology is ubiquitous.  Yet it’s still better to read like it was 1893 with our printed books.  Tomorrow digital reading will overcome its current limitations.  Asking about what it will be, and how we interact with digital book publishing is like asking someone from 1973 how we will interact with the internet.  The day to day utility of digital books will surpass printed copies.  It may be the way we read, increased data rates, integrated search, virtual notes, text presentation, or something else.  When it does come it will be profound, and we will all know it’s time to switch.  Until then, what we have today for a digital book is certainly no Netscape Navigator.