Decline of books (NGC4LIB)

… wrote:
>�Interesting Times (UK) article on books, publishing and bookselling in the UK.
>�Two points:
>�1. As stated before, I don’t think technology will sweep away
>�bookshops and overturn publishers, and leave libraries standing just
>�as they are now.
>�2. It’s sad but not uncommon that a long article on the web and the
>�fate of book culture doesn’t mention or reference libraries. I’m
>�convinced if libraries had a credible online presence, this wouldn’t
>�be the case.

And it seems to be even worse for scholarly publishers. Still, it’s not the end of the “book” so long as a book is not defined as only “physical ink on physical pages, bound together with some kind of a cover.” If “book” is defined as a text meant to communicate ideas with others, differentiated somehow from memos and instant messaging, then it’s one of the great times in history. To me, it’s like the introduction of printing: massive amounts of information become available to the masses of people at a price that many more people can afford. Today in some cases, it is almost free. This easily accessible information can have some strange results. A newspaper in Denmark can publish caricatures of Mohammad and this results in people dying in riots in Central Asia.

Of course this change in information exchange will create profound changes in the society and the economy. just as everything broke loose in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many, like Rupert Murdoch in the article cited, want to maintain the power that they have always had and “force” people to pay or do without. This reminds me of the old printing guilds that were set up (and eventually failed), and the problem of illegal downloads reminds me of the “Index of Forbidden Books” (which also failed). The groups who argue that we must force people to pay for information, or who maintain that downloads are illegal and we must seriously punish the offenders may have excellent points, but still, it all points to a loss of control among those groups who have had it for a long time. And they are both very unhappy and sincerely frightened of the possibility of losing that power.

I think there will be lots of opportunities for people to make money in this new world, but I’m not sure how yet. So long as there are free alternatives to Rupert Murdoch’s information, I don’t know how many will still be willing to pay. But just as the old scriptoria in the monasteries declined after the introduction of printing, and an entire way of life along with it, I think we are in a very similar situation.

Let’s just hope this time the transition is more civilized.

Jim Weinheimer