Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is the book a crucial cultural artifact, or just an outdated container for content?

By  - Jan. 18, 2013 - paidContent

A blog post by Nick Carr about the future of the printed book touched off an epic comment debate between the author and media theorist Clay Shirky about whether the book format itself will die out and be replaced.

If you’ve been following our coverage of the disruption of the publishing industry, you know that the meaning of the term “book” has become pretty fluid, thanks to the e-book revolution; and it’s not just the Kindle, but new offerings like Byliner and Atavist, which blur the lines between books and magazines, and even new variations on an old format like serialized fiction. So do physical books really matter any more? Is there something special about them, or are they just a historical artifact whose time has come and gone?

Internet curmudgeon Nick Carr attacked this particular question in a recent post on his blog, and got into an interesting debate with digital-media theorist Clay Shirky via the comments. Ironically, while Shirky is often criticized as a purveyor of wishful thinking about media, it is Carr who argues there is something ineffable and mysterious about the format we know as the book, while Shirky’s argument seems more based in reality
(Note: we are going to be discussing the future of the book and potential business models for book-related content at our paidContent media conference in New York on April 18, with a panel discussion featuring Atavist founder Evan Ratliff and Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks).

In his original essay — entitled “Will Gutenberg laugh last?” — Carr notes that research shows e-book reading is still on the rise, but also shows that print reading continues to command a large share of the market, and that printed book sales are “holding up relatively well.” Some publishers and distributors have even noticed a slowdown in e-book sales, says Carr, who then goes on to propose some reasons why that might be the case, including:
“We may be discovering that e-books are well suited to some types of books (like genre fiction) but not well suited to other types (like nonfiction and literary fiction)… the e-book may turn out to be more a complement to the printed book, as audiobooks have long been.”
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