Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Publishing After Google Books

The author, James Gleick, who negotiated on behalf of authors in the recent legal settlement between Google and publishers, writes in the New York Times about the book business after Google Books.

He argues against those who think the book is obsolete:
I think, on the contrary, we’ve reached a shining moment for this ancient technology. Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms.

As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. ... I’m just saying that the book is technology that works.

He observes that the range of genres taking book form has been narrowed by the electronics revolution:
There’s reading and then there’s reading. There is the gleaning or browsing or cherry-picking of information, and then there is the deep immersion in constructed textual worlds: novels and biographies and the various forms of narrative nonfiction — genres that could not be born until someone invented the codex, the book as we know it, pages inscribed on both sides and bound together. These are the books that possess one and the books one wants to possess.

For some kinds of books, the writing is on the wall. Encyclopedias are finished. ... Basic dictionaries no longer belong on paper .... And those hefty objects called “telephone books”? As antiquated as typewriters. The book has had a long life as the world’s pre-eminent device for the storage and retrieval of knowledge, but that may be ending, where the physical object is concerned

Glieck sees a great value for authors in Google's project:
The vast majority [of books scanned by Google], four million to five million, are books that had fallen into a kind of limbo: protected by copyright but out of print. Their publishers had given up on them. They existed at libraries and used booksellers but otherwise had left the playing field. ... This means a new beginning — a vast trove of books restored to the marketplace. ...

He has clear advice for how book publishers can survive in these new circumstances:
Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.

That matches our observation that while the book as information source is facing stiff competition, the book remains unchallenged as the preeminent icon of education, wisdom, tradition, culture and religion.

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