Future of the book all down to definition

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Research Publishing
Niels Peter Thomas

Author: Niels-Peter Thomas

Springer Nature Chief Book Strategist

Parts of Springer Nature have been publishing books for more than 330 years now, but it is no exaggeration to say that the changes to the industry that we have seen in the last 10 years are more fundamental than anything that took place in the preceding 320 years.  This speed of recent change therefore poses the question, what will book publishing look like in the future?  

On one hand, there are researchers in the scientific community who question the role of publishers, and even the book format itself. Will authors find the time to write long texts in the future? If they do, will they need publishers to communicate with their peers? On the other hand, we see a continuous growth in citations to books and an increase in the usage of eBooks with books continuing to have a longer average shelf life than any other published text.  For these reasons we see great potential for book publishing that has only just started to be uncovered in the digital world.

books_04 © Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

But book publishing will only continue if there are books to be published.  Therefore, the real question is whether there will there be books in the future? The answer to this question is the classic yes and no, depending on your definition of the book. Undoubtedly, the essence of the book is changing and will continue to change and if you stick to an old definition of what a book is, books may well disappear.

However, if you define a book according to its future needs, I think books have a bright future as, there are enough reasons to believe that the book will keep and even gain in importance in scientific communication. But we need to be open to very fundamental change. Books serve specific purposes, and if the needs of researchers change, or if different technologies can fulfil existing needs better, than we have to listen to the changing needs and then translate this into our definition of books.

Undoubtedly, the essence of the book is changing and will continue to change and if you stick to an old definition of what a book is, books may well disappear.

Here are five elements that will surely change in the next coming years:

First, business models will continue to evolve. Books will be sold, read, and used in many more ways than before. The early decision of Springer and later Springer Nature to offer books in large eBook collections tremendously helped the dissemination of eBooks in libraries and offers better value for money than the purchase of individual books – but of course we do not stop here. Our books are today offered in more than 20 different business models and we may expect this to grow in the coming years.

Second, we are refining and increasing the functionality of (e)books. Academic books are a means of scholarly communication, and in the digital world we can promote communication much better than in print. We are already engaging in experiments with Social Reading to make books the place for an exchange of ideas among students and lecturers, between authors and readers. Books of the future will both be definitive and citable, but also subject to faster change in the digital world.

Third, we need a better understanding of how people read, learn and use our books. Some are interested in the full book, others only want the answer to a very specific question. We will offer much more accurate solutions to the needs of our readers. This will of course result in a greater variety of book formats & databases, with researchers finding answers in books without realizing that they have just read (a part of) a book.

Fourth, we have already started to deliver much more and better data around books: Metadata for readers and librarians, knowledge graphs as Linked-open-data, usage & citations, the impact of books to science and society via bookmetrix.com, but also all kinds of author services after publication.

Fifth, we provide more help to authors in the process of writing books, a better workflow experience, better tools to assist the creation of new knowledge, and internally better technology to assess the quality and scientific integrity of books.

Books of the future will both be definitive and citable, but also subject to faster change in the digital world.

Of course, we are also looking at more fundamental technological challenges like long term storage and preservation of books, machine-generated abstracts, reading in the virtual reality, but these are very much for the long term future. Books have proven in the last ten years that they are open for change – and there is no reason to believe that their evolution is complete.  . But at Springer Nature our commitment to maintaining the authority of a traditional book while combining it with the possibilities presented by  new technology, that goes beyond simple digitalization, is a good indicator that we will continue to meet the demands of authors, researchers and librarians with the books fit for the  future.

Niels Peter Thomas

Author: Niels-Peter Thomas

Springer Nature Chief Book Strategist

Niels-Peter received a combined degree in electrical engineering and economics at Darmstadt University of Technology. He has 10 years of experience in the publishing industry in Germany and China as he started at Springer in Heidelberg in 2005, relocated to Beijing in 2011 and since 2013 has been based in Wiesbaden, Germany. 


Niels-Peter is a university lecturer in media studies, digital media, media business models and has been a keynote speaker at Frankfurt Book Fair, Beijing Book Fair, The Markets conference, CIFTIS (China International Fair For Trade in Services), Akademie der deutschen Medien München, Young Professionals Media Academy Frankfurt, and others.

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Advancing discovery

The speed of recent change in the publishing industry in the past 10 years poses the question, what will book publishing look like in the future?

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