The folks at the Wall Street Journal very nicely asked me to write a cover story for their Journal Report on technology, which is on the stands today. The piece is here online, but if you get a chance, check in out in print (ironic, I know.) They dedicated the whole front page of the section to the story, which is really cool to see. (It's also teased above the masthead on the front page.) There are about a dozen different predictions running through the piece, some of the positive, some negative. It will be interesting to see which ones get picked up, and whether people read it as an optimistic piece, or more mixed:
Imagine every page of every book individually competing with every page of every other book that has ever been written, each of them commented on and indexed and ranked. The unity of the book will disperse into a multitude of pages and paragraphs vying for Google's attention.
In this world, citation will become as powerful a sales engine as promotion is today. An author will write an arresting description of Thomas Edison's controversial invention of the light bulb, and thanks to hundreds of inbound links from bookloggers quoting the passage, those pages will rise to the top of Google's results for anyone searching "invention of light bulb." Each day, Google will deposit a hundred potential book buyers on that page, eager for information about Edison's breakthrough. Those hundred readers might pale compared with the tens of thousands of prospective buyers an author gets from an NPR appearance, but that Google ranking doesn't fade away overnight. It becomes a kind of permanent annuity for the author.
Also, if you didn't get to read it, be sure to check out Kevin Kelly's excellent piece on digital books from the Times Magazine last year, which I quote in the Journal essay. We focus on some different angles, but like much of what Kevin and I write, the two pieces are complementary.