Book design will diverge down several paths and has a surprisingly healthy future.
1) E-books based on a reflow format (i.e., suitable for small devices) will be based on common style sheets and exhibit a fairly uniform appearance. There will be a set of small (in size) firms that customize and refine these style sheets. Publishers will mostly outsource the format conversion since the ever changing variety of devices requires continual reformating of material. There will be some firms that profit very well from providing this service.
2) E-books based on PDFs also will be very popular due to the variety of light-weight computing devices with large screens. (The whole PDF vs reflow format for e-books is misleading unless one assumes that small, palm-sized devices will completely replace all other forms of desktop, notebook, and tablet-sized computers.)
3) Some material traditionally only published in book format will shift to Web delivery and “book” design for this genre actually is Web design. Many challenges for publishers in this segment who have not yet figured out how to monetize Web sites. (If publishers have not figured that out in the last 15 years, will the next 15 years be much different?) Many opportunities for new publishing firms to emerge to fill the gap for producing and monetizing engaging content using digital media. Many opportunities for designers since elegant Web design is neither simple nor cheap.
4) Print-on-demand establishes a significant market operating in bookstores, libraries, big-box retail outlets, and direct shipping to consumers. All those books still need designing and the PDF byproduct can feed directly into pathway #2 above as well as #1 with conversion services offered in pathway #1.
5) Print book designers will still flourish as some publishers will realize that a niche audience is willing to pay a premium for a wonderfully designed book, heralding a surprising renaissance in book design. Also, print book designers can design PDF-based e-books with no problem since PDF is usually a byproduct in the print book design process.
I’m convinced that e-books eventually will replace printed books as the world’s primary reading material.
And before you say it: just because you don’t want to cuddle up in bed with an e-book, don’t assume, don’t assert, that others share that attitude.
Wide acceptance of e-books largely depends upon functional reading devices but limited distribution of printed books is an even larger issue. Sure, print-on-demand offers a solution but what happens when the quality of e-books are better and more affordable and more accessible than books printed on demand?
I already live in a part of the world where 95% of the English-languages books I want to read are not easily available. That scenario, the lack of printed reading material, really adjusts your perspective about e-books. (Meanwhile, fortunately, I am surrounded by a wealth of Spanish-language books). But I still feel the necessity of an e-book reader. Unfortunately, international shipping to Argentina is not reliable and there’s a huge import tax on electronics. So, my e-book reader will have to wait until some future visit to North America.
What is the future of book design in an e-book world? Very healthy.
Book design, layout, and typography will continue to play the same role in producing e-books as in printed books. Indeed, one could argue that readability may be an even more important factor with e-books. New possibilities with layout and presentation also may be presented through e-book readers. Of course, there will be limitations and some books just will not be as presentable through e-book readers as in their printed counterparts. Essentially, book designers already produce every printed book as an e-book anyway. In all cases, the final production files delivered to the printer are digital files and almost always in PDF. So, there is still plenty need for book designers in an e-book world.
What about book cover design? Very healthy.
The cover image will continue to play an important marketing role in helping people select which e-books to read. Just as with printed books, e-books need some way of standing out in the crowd.
And what about printed books in an e-book world?
People will still want to buy books, but my thinking is that people will be more interested in spending money on specialized books, books not available digitally, books that offer an experience, books that involve a high degree of design.
So, we may be book designers but that doesn’t mean we’re traditionalists. Of course, in a sense, book design is not so much about the book but about the ways that text and images are conveyed to the reader.