27 September 2011

The end of print?

Sam Harris’s latest blog post spells out in brow-furrowing, lip-chewing detail the gloomy future of the printed book. Fellow bibliophiles are going to find it a depressing read. I do.

Martin at Furious Purpose has commented on the rather dire Melbourne bookshop scene. Borders and Angus & Robertson are gone. My regular supplier of ink-on-dead-trees, Reader’s Feast, is now a famine – they shut shop a few months ago. The only bookstore left that is likely to stock the kind of books I’m willing to pay grossly inflated prices for (thanks Australian government! /sarcasm) is Readings in Carlton. If (when?) that place shutters, I’m going to need therapy.

In this digital, Amazonian age we currently inhabit, book lovers need to somehow make the printed word indispensable, hip even. John Waters has an idea on how to do just that.

HT: Martin



  1. The situation is no better here in the States, Darrick. My once-beloved neighborhood Borders is no more; and nowadays nearly all of my custom goes to Amazon, not necessarily by choice, you understand, but out of necessity. Still, I must have books, rather than the electronic equivalents, because most of my reading matter ranges from mildly to deeply technical, and I need to write notes where they'll do the most good. How can Kindle accommodate that?

    Pete Moulton

  2. Pete, those of us who prefer print are considered Luddites, yet I don't think it's simply a case of print media fans rejecting new technology. There are tactile, sensual and aesthetic aspects to physical books, magazines and bookstores that have no high-tech analogue. And I feel that these qualities are not so easily swapped for things like convenience, low cost, more choice, greater storage capacity etc. This exchange may be a no-brainer for technophiles, but it's not as compelling for me.

  3. Agreed, Darrick. There's another element too: spontaneity and the thrill of discovery, when you come across a book whose very existence you never even suspected. Admittedly, this does still happen to me on occasion while browsing at Amazon, but the frequency is nothing like it used to be when I could just wander around the shelves. A great many of the books I've loved through the years came my way in just this serendipitous manner.

    Pete Moulton

  4. Exactly!

    Incidentally, here's a letter from John Douglas to The Economist, written in response to a recent article on digital vs print publishing:

    "One aspect of digital publishing that you did not discuss is electronic obsolescence. Paper books can be read by future generations with no special tools. Digital e-book files require sophisticated hardware and knowledge of the file format, which are not necessarily always going to be available. The current emphasis on digital dissemination is a serious risk to future historians. Look at the example of the BBC's Domesday project, which stored information using technology that soon became outdated."

    Valid points, I think.