The LazerBook is Basex’  foray into the future of book publishing and distribution and was conceptualized by Jonathan Spira.  It does, of course, not exist today, and probably will not be practical for some time.

However, in carefully analyzing the direction that the book publishing industry must take, it has become apparent to us that the prediction that “books will disappear” is ill-advised. Most notably, pundits have predicted that books, as we now know them, will be replaced by will be replaced by electronic tablets, perhaps similar to screens on a laptop computer.  Sony, in fact, tried this approach with its ill-fated Bookman product, introduced in 1991.   In our view, customers were predictably slow to turn to a pocket television-screen-sized device for their reading pleasure.

It is the last word, “pleasure,” that is perhaps most important to the concept of the LazerBook.  Books are enjoyable; they elicit a reaction, and the experience of reading a book is not limited to the words on a page.  There is a sensory experience also associated with reading a book.  Opening a musty, leather-bound tome gives rise to a heightened sense of adventure.  The binding itself adds to the reading event, as does the quality of the paper, the typeface used (and sometimes even specially designed for a particular work), and the ability to gauge the progress you are making, as the unread pages slowly diminish.

It is clear that the Bookman did little to emulate this experience.

What, then, would?  Let us first consider that there are three broad categories of books on the market today:  reference works (i.e., encyclopedias, travel books, collections of articles, cartoons, art books, etc.); works of non-fiction (such as biographies, business texts, and treatises on various maters); and fiction (which constitute our traditional body of literature).

Reference book publishers are in the knowledge business; they compile knowledge, such as in-depth information on travel, which can then be resold to someone who requires such information.  In the present distribution model, experts sell “information” to information warehousers (publishers), who create a medium for the information and resell it to information distributors (booksellers).  Booksellers sell it to the book buyer (information consumer).  Within the existing model of the World Wide Web, the expert can place his information online, available for direct purchase by the information consumer, thus bypassing publishers and booksellers.  The information, however, does not yet form a
traditional reference work; the output, perhaps printed on a regular paper stock, limits the overall reading experience.  In contrast to this model, LazerBook can compile a fully- customized and bound travel guide on demand.  Furthermore, the information consumer can purchase only the desired information.

Non-fiction works have a distribution model similar to reference works, with the exception that there is generally one author and it is a marketed item; unlike a reference work, which is a collection of information from different sources, a biography or treatise would usually be by one scholar who has in-depth knowledge of his subject.   LazerBook would produce the tome on demand and, after it was no longer wanted, recycle it.

The model varies slightly for works of fiction.  A reader might wish to have an anthology of works in a genre, a collection of short stories by one author, or some other combination.  Or the reader might desire a classic, bound novel.  In any of these instances, LazerBook delivers the desired work to the reader, day or night, even a “rare” book, perhaps out-of- print in an alternative distribution model.

The payment mechanism for LazerBook-produced products is likely to follow the e-cash scenario touted so highly today.  The reader inserts his electronic purse and makes the purchase.  It can be that simple.  Alternatively, if the reader is a member of the LazerBook- of-the-Month club, he might receive pricing and benefits similar to the off-line Book-of- the-Month Club that exists today.

Many futurists argue that the computer will enhance the book-creation process, because it will facilitate reader involvement in the creation of a story.  This, however, changes the book into more of an on-line game. I believe that the LazerBook, like the traditional book, will have its story determined by the author, with little reader interaction.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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