From Papyrus to Pixels: The Future of the Book

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By Alan Kilpatrick

libraryWhat is the future of the book?  Is the print book soon destined for the trash heap of history?  Are eBooks the way of the future?  The Economist recently tackled this controversial question in an online essay entitled From Papyrus to Pixels: The Future of the Book.  The essay suggests a vibrant future for the book.  Here is an excerpt:

Many are worried about what such technology means for books, with big bookshops closing, new devices spreading, novice authors flooding the market and an online behemoth known as Amazon growing ever more powerful. Their anxieties cannot simply be written off as predictable technophobia. The digital transition may well change the way books are written, sold and read more than any development in their history, and that will not be to everyone’s advantage. Veterans and revolutionaries alike may go bust; Gutenberg died almost penniless, having lost control of his press to Fust and other creditors.

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.

Do you agree?  Let us know!  Check out the rest of the essay here.

One thought on “From Papyrus to Pixels: The Future of the Book

    Ken said:
    November 26, 2014 at 11:28 am

    An interesting piece on how genres evolve to adapt to their underlying technology – but in contemplating the “future of the book” the anonymous authors manages to ignore the elephant squatting on their typewriter. Electronic books are locked up & straightjacketed by the fact that they are still “books.” Electronic texts flow like water. They can be downloaded, uploaded, copied, pasted, edited, altered, reformatted, resized, and reshaped (redundancies intentional for emphasis) as easily as … well there really is no analog analogy. Imagine you have fifty faucets in your house for various kinds of juice or soup, and a souprocessing machine that can not only add a certain ingredient, but also extract ingredients, and you also have a pipeline to send your new flavours out to friends & strangers.

    The purpose of Ebook formats is to hamper this functionality. To slow the flow of texts, prevent copying, editing, pasting, all the things that electronic texts, by definition, are amenable to. In essence, to recreate the paper book in a new medium, but without the advantages of the old medium. Of course, the owners of content are able to exploit some advantages of electronic medium – they can send out books more efficiently and at much lower costs, and can amass data on how books are being used. The economist authors does talk briefly about this last point – but barely stops to consider the problem. We now have the potential to learn, in detail, how people read – but “we” will never learn anything from it because the sole purpose of this mountain of data is to extract more money from us. An article in “The Economist” that ignores economics? Pile that on top of all the other oddities at work here.

    Imagine going to a library and finding that most of the books, especially the newer ones, have locks on them. Imagine buying a book, and passing it to a friend to read, and the friend finding that suddenly all the pages are glued together, and cannot be unglued without destroying the book. But those are just the print analogies. The great advantage of the electronic medium is in how if facilitates the transmission of texts, and above all, aids the reader’s ability to copy, edit, write back & re-produce them – and in that respect, ebooks as a market phenomenon, are badly out of step with their physical nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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