Thursday, December 09, 2010

HNT - The Book Is Dead

A few weeks ago I read a fascinating book by Sherman Young called The book is dead (long live the book).

It's a fascinating book written by a passionate book lover and digital consumer/producer.

Young's basic premise is that even though more books are published every year, books actually died a long time ago, well before the Internet, well before the dawn of digital books.  Young argues that we killed it ourselves a long time before, that most books actually published are not products of a "book culture" but rather anti-books -- cynical marketing-driven printed objects capitalizing on whatever is currently hot (popular celebrity bio of the day, anyone?)

He makes some interesting arguments, and goes back to look at historical book culture and publishing culture (the mystery and beauty and mystique it still holds on to in some ways today), runs through a brief history of publishing and reading, then ventures into speculation about the future of "books" and the future of the industry, and what is needed to evolve.

Young states he wrote the book because he loves books and wants a future in which reading still happens and books still matter.  His goal with the book is to begin a conversation that will continue on his blog of the same name as the title of the book:  The Book is Dead.  It's worth heading over then and reading, but I'd suggest reading the book first, as it is well-written, compelling and a really tightly packed look from the beginning of publishing to just a few years ago.

Here's a quick peek at the Table of Contents

Chapter 1:  The book is dead
Chapter 2: What is a book?
Chapter 3: Nobody reads
Chapter 4: Everybody writes
Chapter 5: What do publishers do?
Chapter 6: Objects of desire
Chapter 7: Reconfiguration
Chapter 8: The heavenly library

I find it most intriguing that while the book was published in 2007 (written perhaps in 2006), and the publishing world has advanced dramatically in the past 4+ years (ebooks are now rising to become less of a "they're coming" object and more and more of a "they're here" phenomena), Young makes some observations and predictions regarding that future that are pretty bang-on.

As Young reaches the end of the book, he examines existing e-reading devices (which, back in 2006 was a far cry from what we have today -- we'd only seen the beginning of the true potential in that area) which he recognizes will continue to become better and easier to use -- he talks about the heavenly library, of books in the cloud, and of the vast potential that exists, not to kill the book, but to help breathe new life into it.

"Compared to cultural change," Young says, "building a convincing e-reading device is a cinch. Constructing an ecosystem that speaks to book culture will prove far more difficult than producing a readable electronic screen."

When I went to find the book, because upon discovering it I wanted to start reading it immediately, the first place I checked were ebook sources.  I mean, come on, it's a book about the book being dead. It was published in 2007. Surely it's no longer in print. Right? And surely I could reach out into the bold new world of publishing and be able to quickly purchase and download the book and begin reading it immediately. Right?

Interestingly, the book was still in print, but wasn't available in digital format. So I had to order a hard copy of it.

Oh well, at least it's nicer to present a picture of me reading the print version of the book rather than an ebook version, which is this week's HNT pic.

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