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The disappearing book

Jeremy Hobson: Those protests that David just mentioned will take on another life in the pages of books. Historians and writers will offer their own spin on "the rise of the people."

But, the question is: Will we read those works on paper, or screens or something else? For the next few days, we're going to hear from several people about what the future might look like. It's a commentary series we're calling: "What Now?"

Up first, here's Jennifer 8. Lee on books.


Jennifer 8. Lee: Bye-bye books. I don't mean the book as a dead-tree object, whose death has been predicted for decades. I mean the book as the primary unit of publishing -- ideas or stories that comes in 250 or more pages and sells for $5.99. $10.99, $24.99. And I really mean "book" as a term. Digital devices like Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook are changing what kinds of things get published. Why do they have to be as long as a whole book?

Truth is, people like buying things for $0.99 and $1.99 for their digital devices. We know that from iTunes. We know that from the app store, and now we know that from publishing. At any given point, if you look at the top 500 best sellers on Amazon Kindle, about a third of them are $3 and below. That's what people want to pay. So we are seeing an new explosion of companies that are publishing shorter-form things that are designed for lower prices. A lot of it is non-fiction, like super-charged magazine articles that might not have warranted a whole book.

We've all read books that shouldn't have been full book. Like, those books that have numbers in their titles. But the change does have something to cheer about: We can alter the way we tell stories. There are new ways to follow our imaginary characters. In the same way television is different than movies, these new short stories could be different from traditional novels. It could be the return of the novella.

The funny thing is we don't even really know what to call these things. Don't call them e-books, a horrible term which, to me, sounds like "horseless carriage." First because e-anything sounds pretty 1999: eToys, eBay, eHarmony. And secondly, can it be called an eBook if it wasn't intended to be a book to begin with? You see everyone struggle with what to call these new units of writing: Amazon calls them Kindle Singles, other companies call them "shorts," Apple calls them Quick Reads. If you know what to call them, please give me a call.


Hobson: Jennifer 8. Lee is a journalist and author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles." Send us your thoughts. Write to us.

About the author

Jennifer 8. Lee is a writer, journalist, digital producer, and trustee of Awe­some Food, part of the Awe­some Foun­da­tion. She is the author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles."
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is the medium so important or necessarily relevant?

sbook: stone age book;
pbook: the egyptian precursor (papyrus) to the modern book;
bbook: bark based medium for writing.

it's silly. dmulliga has it correct.

There is a wonderful word Benjamin Franklin employed when he published short pieces of mixed quality of fiction and non-, on small press he ran in France in the the 1780s; Bagatelles. The word comes from the French for a sprightly short-song. The word has the advantage of not being a neologism, (so it cannot be trademarked, and will stay generic), not conveying quality, and having a meaning coined by America's most renown writers and printers. Bagatelle is my suggestion. Lovely icon.

Short like novellas, but in a new, electronic format. Why, they're "nelos", of course! There's not anything that a new word can't fix,... so out with the old and in with the nelos.

Actually, in lieu of getting either 'fancy' or precious..why not call them what they are?....Like "briefs".. It's clean, descriptive and familiar. For longer pieces... of course..'extended briefs'.

Heard your report on Marketplace last night. Great report. Came up with a few terms to describe the "things" on Kindles and other electronic reading devices:

"Digitory" a digital story
"Digitale" a little bit longer digital story
"Digisaga" a REALLY long digital story

Did you ever have an English class?! They're called short stories or essays or serials. They have been published since the dawn of publishing. The media used is insignificant. There is nothing new here. And there will always be books; for those with longer attention spans, and hungrier intellects.

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