Saturday, December 27, 2008

The End of Books?

If reading has a history, it might also have an end. It is far too soon to tell when that end might come, and how the shift from print literacy to digital literacy will transform the “reading brain” and the culture that has so long supported it.
Christine Rosen in The New Atlantis writes about the very serious implications of a move away from physical books in favour reading digitally. [via Conversational Reading]

This is, I feel a very important piece which should stir up much needed debate about where reading is headed.

More posts on this topic.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Personally I think the book indusry is comitting suicide. Cartels, fixed prices, run-of-the-mill stuff sold at silly prices.. the focus has shifted from amazing and delighting an audience to making more money. If anyone on the net can write a better book and give it away for free, the the market for books has just disappeared. There are lot of people on the net who still believe in making a difference to the reader, so it's no surprise that people are flocking to the net in droves.

Reading a book used to be a life-changing experience, but now it's like a lot of the books out there are just a chore to wade through. I can't afford to buy ten or twenty books just to find a good one, and even if I could, it'd be a terrible waste of money.

It's just being priced out.. why would you buy a book you might or might not like, when you can have a subscription to the world's biggest library for the price of a book or two a month?

Or it could just be the downturn :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't think it's the "end of books." Some things are going to have to change but as far as I'm concerned, it's for the better. There was a fine counter-argument to all the gloom and doom some time ago in the NYT. As you'll see from that article, the problem is not so much "cartels and fixed prices" as the lack of them, though I (and the article) do agree with some of what Anonymous is saying above. The industry need to turn away from crowd-pleasing shite and "blockbusters" and meaningless profit.

Also, we should be clear that all this "The End Of Books" talk is coming out of the English-speaking world -- there's no panic in European publishing, for example, and I think it's because they've never made the mistakes US and UK publishing have (or at least not to such a scale!), and because many of them *do* fix prices.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

but what worries me most is not the unlikely scenario that paper books will disappear but the argument that there is likely a fundamental shift in the architecture of the human brain as digital reading becomes the norm. i also feel that a fundamental division between two kinds of readers (those who read online and those who don't) is likely to happen.

lainie said...

I reckon that as long as reading is still done the traditional way, with our eyes, books will never go out of style :) whether the book industry can compete with the cheap, cheap internet though...

to me, reading will be very different when we can input stories into our heads, in the form of text, via a beam of information :P where we can simulate reading through our imaginations, with the text in our heads

but hey, print wont be the only media that'll have to worry if that happened :P

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree that new media are changing the way people read and think, but new media have always done this -- radio, film, and television have all changed the way people read, and all influenced literature hugely (nowadays we don't blink when someone's writing is described as "cinematic," but that description would not have existed 100 years ago...). The shorter attention span, the ability to digest information only in small bits, all these are changes that television (and advertising) and the supremacy of visual culture brought us, really, not something brand-new that's being wrought by the internet revolution. If you look at texts from the early 1900s -- fiction or nonfiction -- they are fundamentally different from texts today. The way we write has *always* changed to accommodate our changing brains. So I don't think change is necessarily something to fear, and I think reading and books have weathered enough storms to adjust to whatever comes next. Mind you, I'm not saying that some of the changes won't be a huge struggle for the publishing industry, but again, I think that may be a good thing. Of course I could be wrong, but only time will tell.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta -

Why fix prices? poor people wouldn't be able to afford them then.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- there's this fantastic information called a library where people who cannot afford to buy books at a fair price can go and borrow them for free. Really! Then they return it after a week or a couple of weeks, and the next person gets to read it, also for free. I know, it sounds too incredible to be true, but I have used these "libraries" myself, and I have seen the light.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant a fantastic *invention.* I really should proofread, Anonymous, but in my zeal to share my discovery with you I neglected to do so.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta -

Where is this fantastic invention you speak of? I have yet to see any easily accessible, well-stocked lending libraries in KL :)

Anonymous said...

Who supports them in KL, Anonymous? If nobody ever uses libraries, preferring instead to buy cut-price books from hypermarkets or the Internet, of course there will be no decent libraries. You can't just keep pointing fingers at invisible authorities. The responsibility is the community's in the end. If you can afford full-price books, pay full price for the books you really *need* to own. For the rest, work to improve your local library. Donate, volunteer, do whatever you can. The more people use libraries, the more their services are in demand, the better they will be. Buying heavily discounted books from chains benefits nobody but the large corporations and your own pocket. Everybody else -- writers, readers, publishers, booksellers -- loses out.

It's like the whole public transportation thing. When petrol is cheap (despite the huge environmental costs), there's no demand for public transportation, and so nothing is done to improve it, and so more and more people buy enormous cars. When petrol is heavily taxed to reflect the true costs (as it is in the Netherlands, for example) public transportation *must* improve, and more people also use bicycles or walk. Similarly, in my opinion, fixing book prices would be a good thing. It would work like a tax, forcing people to *either* use libraries *or* pay full price.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta -

You realize you're just setting straw men to bash at. When did I blame anyone for anything?

And why would they not stop reading altogether if the price is kept artificially high, and libraries don't improve? What incentive is there for a public library to improve? it's a public library, the people there are public employees whose salaries don't go up if there's more demand.

Petrol (gas) has been subsidized here for decades, and public transport has improved by leaps and bounds. So there goes that argument.

Anonymous said...

Public transportation in KL is atrocious, Anonymous -- anyone who uses it regularly will tell you that. The LRT is a joke compared to public transportation in cities where petrol is actually priced fairly. Why don't you tell my parents (who depend on public transport) that it has improved by "leaps and bounds" in KL? They will laugh in your face, and they could use the humour these days.

As for blame -- failing to take responsibility for the lamentable state of public libraries is, in my opinion, the same as blaming others for that state. What incentive is there for public libraries ever to improve, you ask? Well, why don't you do your own research on public libraries outside Malaysia? It'll give you abundant answers to your question, and save me time.

-- Preeta