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Now for something new and different!

I decided to close out the year looking ahead instead of looking back. For one thing, 2009 may have started with the inauguration of America's first African American president but it pretty much went downhill from there. The economy is still tortured; I was at the mall yesterday, and someone had a table with a sign advertising sales of foreclosed homes.

So, looking forward, what do we see? Well, for one thing, I saw an interesting post on the Guardian book blog called "From Spotify to Bookify: how playlists could revolutionize the books market". Being so completely non-musical myself— I don't own any kind of MP3 player unless you count my Kindle— I wasn't that familiar with the concept of a playlist, so it took me a minute to catch on to Akin Ajayi's proposal. A lot of Apple enthusiasts are convinced an "Apple tablet" eReader would have the same effect on the book industry that the iPod had on the music industry, but I have never believed it myself. Albums are made up of individual songs that didn't really need the other songs to be there. Except for short story collections and anthologies, books are created to be read in their entirety. In a way, what the iPod did was to put the music industry back to almost what it had been when 45's were the most popular records, instead of LPs/albums/CDs.

But the one thing the iPod offered was the concept of a custom playlist, and sites such as Spotify make it possible for users to see other folks' playlists and find music they like based on having similar tastes. If I understand Ajayi correctly, this is the gist of his post: ebook vendors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble could create subscription libraries of books— not new books, but books that have been out for a while, and might, under the old order, even be out of print— and subscribers could borrow books at a rate that depended on their subscription. Playlist-type software would allows for interaction among readers/users so they could find books they like.

I think this could be a viable idea, especially because it focuses on older books rather than new books. Most books sell well only for a short time; once the bloom is off the rose, they trickle down and sometimes even stop selling entirely. This kind of service could make good use of technology and provide a new revenue stream without without blowing the old one out of the water.

For a look at non-book-related but interesting and even fun uses of new technology, check out the NYT's David Pogue's Pogie Awards, a list of the best tech ideas of the past year. You'll notice the items cover mostly cell phone and web usage, two things that haven't been around all that long. Things are going to change; that much is certain. Books have had their current printed form, more or less, for centuries. But technology is changing everything, so I guess it's books' turn!

To close out, I'll include a link to some predictions for the coming year from an Australian futurist named Mark Pesce who predicts dramatic changes. It's already next year for him!






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