Saturday, October 29, 2011




Thought it would be interesting and informative to investigate the ‘death of the book’ phenomenon. Look this up on Google and you’ll find 408 million items, Here are the most interesting pieces I have come across in reverse chronological order, prefaced by this wonderful diagram.




August 30th: The Death of Books Has Been Greatly Exaggerated by Lloyd Shepherd/The Guardian

According to Nielsen BookScan, the publishing industry standard for book sales data, book sales are pretty healthy, with one significant proviso which I'll come to. Ten years ago in 2001, 162m books were sold in Britain. Ten years later – a decade in which the internet bloomed, online gaming exploded, television channels proliferated, digital piracy rampaged and, latterly, recession gloomed – 229m books sold. So, a 42% increase in the number of books sold over the last 10 years.

April 18th: The Death of the Book by Ben Ehrenreich/Los Angeles Review of Books

Excellent, witty, thoughtful essay (if slightly esoteric towards the end) setting this notion in a long historical context.

‘In a 1913 manifesto, Filippo Marinetti (a futurist of the OG sort) called for “a typographic revolution directed against the idiotic and nauseating concepts of the outdated and conventional book.”

The alarm at first built gradually.  In 1999, Robert Darnton, writing in The New York Review of Books, consoled his readers that, all the grim prophecies notwithstanding, “the electronic age did not drive the printed word into extinction.”  The book seemed safe enough for a few years, in more danger from the avarice of the carbon-based conglomerates that ate up all the publishers, than from anything in silicon.  Safe until the fall of 2007, when lady Amazon released her hounds. Within a month of the Kindle’s debut, the New Yorker was writing of the “Twilight of the Books.”  (Cue soundtrack: all minor keys, moody cello.)  The London Times worried that “the slow death of the book may be with us.”

April 6th: 541 Years of the Death of Books/Blurb

In The Body of the Book,* Jan-Dirk Müller recounts how, in the 15th century, a man in Paris named Guillaume Fichet was worried. He was starting to see the effects of the invention of moveable type, created 30 years earlier, and he didn’t like them. We’re not talking the blogging software, but the actual metal type that was being used to print books in large quantities. In 1470 he wrote that if “everything that can be thought can immediately be written and preserved for posterity [by this new technology] the memory capacity of the cultural system will be overstressed and oblivion will be the result.”

February 21st: Are Reports of the Death of the Book Greatly Exaggerated? by Rabbi Tzv Pittinsky

But, it appears that the book as we know it is dying. Eli Kannai, Chief Educational Technology Officer of the Avi Chai Foundation, recently directed me to a hypothetical Academic Library "Autopsy Report" from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The thesis of this report, which seems highly likely to be proven true, is that by 2050, the library will be no more. Books will become obsolete as all books and journal articles will be fully digitized to be accessed anytime, anywhere using computers or portable e-readers.

test4The death of the book illustration

Source: Ron Chapple/


October 8th: Death of the Book, or Not by Michael Cerveiri/ScribeMedia

Think of the billions living in the developing world where hardcover books can cost half a month’s salary, Amazon doesn’t deliver and local bookstores that can get new books charge even more because of transportation and procurement costs. Think of all these things and you can begin to see validity in Negroponte’s idea.

Books, and the desire for books, are creating a demand for low-cost tablets and the accessibility they afford because physical books themselves are simply, and globally, unaffordable.


September 21st: The Death of the Book Has Been Greatly Exaggerated by Christopher Mims/Technology Review

Here's the reality this kind of hype is up against: back of the envelope calculations suggest that ebooks are only six pecent of the total market for new books.

How can that be possible, when Amazon recently said that ebooks are outselling hard-cover books at Easy: Amazon is only 19 percent of the total book market. Also, Amazon has something like 90 percent of the world's ebook market.

August 7th: It’s Futurists Versus Consumers As The Death of the Book Is Prophesied by Devin Coldewey/ Tech Crunch

Article triggered by Nicholas Negroponte’s prediction that printed books would be dead in five years. Article concludes:

‘Negroponte posits (and he is not the only one) that the raw information comprised by books will soon be more important and accessible than books themselves. That’s inevitable, as printed books were only ever containers, but they remain effective and popular containers, and I think they still have a lot of life left in them — more than five years, anyway. The age of print is coming to an end, but those of us writing excitedly about it are the only ones in a hurry.’


The Death of the Book by S. David Marsh/Mars Hill Review

Death-of-the-book-as-we-know-it forecasters ply their trade with confidence. It seems there is no test of the prophet in this business and every few years the terms of the prophecy are retooled to reflect the latest technology. Everyone has a new epiphany and the cycle rolls over once more. With the new millennium before us, we are assured anew that paper-based information delivery is on the verge of total collapse (again) and that full content, high-quality virtual libraries and e-books-a-million sites will spontaneously materialize over the Internet to fill the void. Access will be unencumbered and inexpensive (or free). Soon, we are promised, e-book reading devices costing less than $100 will weigh half a pound and hold one million titles.  So "forget paper . . . here come e-books . . . the physical object consisting of bound dead trees in shiny wrapper is headed for the antique heap . . . books are goners."



E-Readers Catch Younger Eyes and Go in Backpacks by Julie Bosman New York Times 4th Feb 2011

“Kids are drawn to the devices, and there’s a definite desire by parents to move books into this format,” Ms. Vila said. “Now you’re finding people who are saying: ‘Let’s use the platform. Let’s use it as a way for kids to learn.’ ”

Twilight of the Books by Caleb Crain/The New Yorker 24th Dec 2007

What will life be like if people stop reading ?


Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins by Dirk Johnson/New York Times 20th Feb 2011

Here’s the London Review of Books article referred to E-Book 1: Short Cuts by James Meek. Meek is reading Peter Mandeslon’s The Third Man

I moved to underline it, only to realise someone had done so already. Oddly, the book was spit new. It wasn’t even on paper. It was an ebook, a digital form of Mandelson’s masterwork that I’d downloaded from Amazon via the Kindle app on my iPad in the hope (futile, as it happened) of gleaning information about an obscure moment in recent British history. How could someone have been there before me? Each copy of each ebook, stored as bits of electronic data, is always new, the pages as white and the text as crisp as the day they were generated. I’d never looked at that page before. Yet there, under Mandelson’s bleak words, was a faint, dotted grey line. I touched the passage with my fingertip, and the explanation appeared in a pale blue balloon: ‘Eight other people highlighted this part of the book.’

No comments: