As an avid brand evangelist for all things Penguin-related (the books, not the chocolate bars), it’s natural that I should be a subscriber to the company’s blog. Courtesy of an RSS feed straight into my work inbox (the wonders of Web 2.0) my attentions were momentarily distracted from banal tasks and turned to the issues of new publishing technologies and more importantly, the ramifications for books in their current pulpy format.
The increasing shift of everything to digital platforms is nothing new – the ease of illegal data distribution and online file-sharing has been a key factor in the decline of physical music sales over the past few years and has surely driven a huge metaphorical nail into the music industry as we know it. Whilst music purists may lament the demise of limited edition 7” singles and rare disc artwork, literary advocates have been sitting relatively safe – until now.
As Penguin explain, the extinction of the book still remains a long way off, however the publishing industry, like many others, faces many challenges in these digitally-driven times (http://thepenguinblog.typepad.com/the_penguin_blog/2009/01/bookcamped.html).
As an avid book collector and literary enthusiast, the possibility of book banishment and paper persecution terrifies me, as I’m sure my alarming use of alliteration also does you. Apart from the centuries of knowledge and shared learning that has been exemplified in the passing down of beautifully inscribed books, the collector in me fears for the loss of a very real passion.
The advent of machines such as e-readers, where thousands of volumes can be stored electronically and read in the palm of the hand, whilst undoubtedly beneficial in some repsects, are simply no match for the original thing.
The feeling, for instance, when one is browsing through a second-hand bookshop and uncovers a first edition of a favourite author, or the feeling of wonderment one gets when perusing the pages of an intricately illustrated Victorian medical volume.
The philanthropic implications for digitally producing and distributing literature are enormous – imagine a world where everyone has access to all works of literature and can share cultural experiences. However, nothing will ever compare to the feeling of leafing through a rare proof edition or an antique periodical, breathing in the age-old ink and dust along with the centuries of tradition and knowledge that make books such an integral part of global culture and human civilisation.