In a time of immense and rapid transformation, no commercial and intellectual field has been more affected than publishing. What used to be a gentleman’s club by and for a select few is suddenly open to anyone with a computer. There are e-books, blogs, tiny presses and self-published, often crowd-sourced publications. Suddenly all kinds of people are writing all kinds of things that can be read all over the world. If anyone can do it, what happens to traditional gatekeepers? Who are the new players? Who will rise and who will fall? What about quality? How does the new order/disorder affect the vital flow of information and ideas? What does it mean and where it it going?
One of my professors at Pratt used to say about computers, “it’s a visual thing.” And with books, we think it is, then we think again and realize it’s a whole lot more. Today there are audio books, and long before those, there was the oral tradition. Words are usually presented on a page, but they come alive in our mind as pictures and sound. We hear them.
So what exactly is a book today? People give different answers: words printed on paper (hardcover, paperback, trade paperback, on demand), an e-book (file) viewed on an electronic screen (nook, Kindle, iPad, iPhone), words heard via cassette or computer, and those are partial answers. But at its most fundamental, a book is an experience.
As the world moves forward, new chapters will unfold in the story of books. Who controls electronic rights? What format will books ultimately take? Will collectors wind up collecting artists’ books because published books will no longer be printed? Who will control the publishing process? Who will have access to electronic books? Everyone? People with money? What will happen to libraries? Endless questions in a fascinating, ongoing drama.