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Are Books Dying?

Over at the Guardian, Jeff Jarvis is contemplating the limited lifespan of the book in his article Books will disappear. Print is where words go to die. [Link via BookNinja]

The article gives a nice 50,000-foot view of the situation between the capabilities and pressure of The Digital Age vs. the limited vision of The Old Ways:

…[E]fforts to update the book are hampered because, culturally, we give extreme reverence to the form for the form’s sake. We hold books holy: children are taught there is no better use of time than reading a book. Academics perish if they do not publish. We tolerate censors regulating and snipping television but would never allow them to black out books. We even ignore the undeniable truth that too many books, and far too many bestsellers, are pap or crap. All this might seem to be the medium’s greatest advantage: respect. But that is what is holding books back from the progress that could save and spread the gospel of the written word.

This is an interesting observation: Respect for books – the very thing we have been taught and try to teach others – is what’s hindering its evolution. I’ll have to give that chewy morsel some more thought. At least Jeff agrees that there is value in holding a fiction book: “fiction, especially, is best delivered one-way and on portable paper.” That gives me something to hold onto before books go the way of the 8-Track tape.

I still wonder, though, is this an insightful prognostication, or just malarky?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on Are Books Dying?

  1. Ultimately its not about the published form its about the reading. And reading isn’t dying, it’s thriving.

    I think Kevin Kelly and Cory Doctorow are on to something with the “one great big book” idea. It’s not even that much of a stretch as its clearly happening right now.

  2. More thoughts…

    Digital content isn’t going away, nor should it. However, the type of content matters to me. Reference works are perfect for digital consumption: searchable, interlinked, on-demand and you could print it if you needed to.

    Fiction, as noted, is something in which the reading experience is more personal. A “good book” will immerse the reader into its pages. For me at least, it’s harder to do that on some reading device. But not impossible. I have somewhat warmed up to the idea of eBook reading and have read quite a few short stories on my PDA. I’ve only read two novels, though – longer fiction works almost demand the heft of a physical book.

    So, I don’t think books will altogether disappear anytime soon. But I can foresee where much of the content is deliverable in electronic format.

  3. joshua corning // June 6, 2006 at 8:25 pm //

    one day someone will make a digital platform that works better then books…(hard to imagine becouse books don’t need batteries) but it will happen and people will read them instead.

    Fiction i love and is great and will never die in the wrtten form…but since it is now competeing with TV DVD and video games and more it is reasonable that written form fiction will decline in relation to newer media…why this is a huge travesty i have no idea…i love grand theft auto and deadwood…and would not give them up for a 1 million more books which i will never be able to read being published every year.

    on another note poeple are not reading less becouse of the internet they are reading more…just not as mush fiction.

  4. I don’t think books are going to disappear anytime soon. They’ve been around for thousands of years, while electronic formats have been quite ephemeral. CD’s and CD-ROMS, once touted as everlasting and indestructable have started to deteriorate after a mere 20 years. And books don’t have to depend on outside power sources.

  5. Joshua,

    I’m not sure that people are reading less fiction. Book sales here in the UK have been steadily climbing. Internet reading time seems to come at the expense of television not fiction reading.

    I’m looking forward to a handy ebook reader loaded for bear with novels and short stories.

  6. Most books do actually require an external source of power, but since light is mostly ubiquitous in most of our lives we don’t tend to think about it.

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