Gibson_William_400 The Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog has an interview with William Gibson, part of a longer piece it will be publishing in the next day or so. This segment focuses on Gibson’s thoughts about the future of book publishing.

Gibson notes that, thanks to Twitter, he is experiencing a larger level of fan engagement than he had been able to previously and finding it “more pleasant” than he had expected. He is also able to get a clearer picture of where the book is being released and when.

He also notes that he doesn’t see the rise of the e-book as the daunting prospect many of his contemporaries do, but doesn’t expect physical books to completely go away, either. And he points out that a lot of the environmental waste associated with modern publishing could be eliminated by the rise of print-on-demand book machines like the Espresso.

My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they’re able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they’re remarkably sophisticated. You’d eliminate the waste and you’d get your book -– and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper.

I’ve been meaning to read Gibson’s present-day books, Spook Country and Zero History, having heard good things about them. I do find it interesting that essentially co-inventing the cyberpunk genre has given Gibson cred as a futurist, given that he originally based it more on the video games his kids played than on real computers, about which he actually knew very little at the time.

But then, anyone who thinks about the future at all could be called a futurist I suppose. And it does bear thinking about—it’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives, after all.


  1. Gibson hit on a selling point: book making machines. My editor forwarded me a short news clip roughly 5 months ago about Barnes and Noble contemplating a massive expansion into having Print On Demand machines at their walk-in stores. I was intrigued by the idea of on-demand printing in person, not to mention the lack of waste associated with it. Book-making machines can actually be bought (for about $5000-$10,000 at sites like if a group of authors wants to start their own ‘basement’ publishing company; the suggestion has a sort of ‘revolutionary’ feel to it that rather transcends the ebooks VS cellulose debate, for with such an POD in store option, paper book advocates can have their expensive copy whenever they want one.

  2. It’s still inefficient to have to drive to a store for something you can get from your computer. If you are a fetishist who likes the product, perhaps you want to feel the pages, but if you just want the words, it’s adding an extra hour or two and a couple of dollars to the cost.

    And you still won’t be able to compete with Amazon, which is doing the exact same thing without the pricey real estate.

    Scott Nicholson

  3. Gibson’s fantasy ain’t going to happen. Paper books will shrink to 20% of the market over 10-15 years and stabilise about 15% imho. Books shops similarly. I really don’t see ready print machines doing anything other than a tiny niche market.

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