Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

The End of Books?

Ok.  I know I have been one to say of late that books as a printed format are doomed due to the recent ebook craze.  Being the critical thinker that I am, however, I realize that there is something to be said for the durability of the book.  Nicholas Carr wrote a book called The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, which is about how the Internet is changing the way our brains work.  In the book, he devotes a chapter to the image of the book, which can be read here.  Here is one quote from the book that I found interesting.

Five years later(Adam’s note:  This would be 1894), Scribner’s Magazine delivered the seeming coup de grace to the codex, publishing an article titled “The End of Books” by Octave Uzanne, an eminent French author and publisher. “What is my view of the destiny of books, my dear friends?” he wrote. “I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.” Printing, a “somewhat antiquated process” that for centuries “has reigned despotically over the mind of man,” would be replaced by “phonography,” and libraries would be turned into “phonographotecks.” We would see a return of “the art of utterance,” as narrators took the place of writers. “The ladies,” Uzanne concluded, “will no longer say in speaking of a successful author, ‘What a charming writer!’ All shuddering with emotion, they will sigh, ‘Ah, how this “Teller’s” voice thrills you, charms you, moves you.'”

I find it interesting that Carr goes on to predict the eventual demise of the book.

Today, books remain as commonplace as ever, and there’s every reason to believe that printed works will continue to be produced and read, in some sizable quantity, for years to come. While physical books may be on the road to obsolescence, the road will almost certainly be a long and winding one. Yet the continued existence of the codex, though it may provide some cheer to bibliophiles, doesn’t change the fact that books and book reading, at least as we’ve defined those things in the past, are in their cultural twilight. As a society, we devote ever less time to reading printed words, and even when we do read them, we do so in the busy shadow of the Internet. “Already,” the literary critic George Steiner wrote in 1997, “the silences, the arts of concentration and memorization, the luxuries of time on which ‘high reading’ depended are largely disposed.” But “these erosions,” he continued, “are nearly insignificant compared with the brave new world of the electronic.” Fifty years ago, it would have been possible to make the case that we were still in the age of print. Today, it is not.

I believe the basis for my bold statements deal more with the publishers finding more profit in selling ebooks than in printed books.  Sure, they still realize more value in the printed hard cover, but as ebooks become more popular and publishers can make more money per book by not going through the expensive printing process, we will see printed books only from specialized print shops. The big houses will devote themselves to ebooks.

In saying this, as Carr’s chapter illustrates, books have withstood a multitude of challenges over the years so I could be completely off-base with my prediction.   What do you think?  Are printed books in their twilight?

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Written by amwlkaw

June 3, 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in Misc

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