May 16, 2013

Jaron Lanier offers to save the book business, but even his own publisher doesn’t listen


Jaron Lanier offered to save publishing with a wave of his hand, but S&S still printed his book on recycled paper.

Jaron Lanier has been called an “internet pioneer,” a “digital visionary,” and a “technology humanist.” He shaped the internet as it was being formed, later criticizing Web 2.0 for making big companies rich at the expense of the content-creating middle-class. Today he works for Microsoft on futuristic projects and secret research. He’s also a musician, a writer, and a father.

In her review of his new book Who Owns the Future? Janet Maslin adds another descriptor, calling Lanier a “mega-wizard in futurist circles. ” But she could have also called him a “book publishing strategist.” In the final chapter of his book, Lanier lays out his thoughts on the future of books and offers a money-making scheme to save the book business:

It amazes me that traditional book publishers don’t understand the emotional value of paper… To survive, the book business has to define a product for the upper horn, for the rich… there should be hyper limited editions of books like this one, hand copied by monks onto handmade paper, using organic fair-trade inks, and sold only in VIP rooms at parties where almost no one can get in. Listen up, publisher, you are with these very words publishing the advice that could win you a fortune, but you are choosing to ignore a way to get through these tough times.

Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Who Owns the Future? was apparently unwilling to take the leap. Seemingly resigned to the inability of publishers to heed his warnings, Lanier offers possible outcomes once the book industry has been completely overhauled by Silicon Valley. “Net neutrality will exist in celebrated theory but not in practice,” Lanier writes. Here’s an abridged selection of a few more of his predictions:

1) There will be much more information available in some semblance of book form than ever before, but the quality will go down.

2) A book won’t be the same for each person because the information will be updated and the stakes of producing a finished manuscript won’t be as high.

3) Writing a book won’t mean as much, which could be considered democratic or antielitist, but it’s a result of lowering standards.

4) Readers will have to deal with being locked into platforms, devices, or services with forgotten passwords. Readers will lose libraries, notes, and their own writing when switching vendors.

5) Technically adept and more hackerlike readers will feel more comfortable.

6) People will pay less to read, but authors will earn less.



Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.