Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

Jeff Gomez

A few months ago I listened to some excerpts from this book, and finally got around to actually reading the whole thing.

There’s something in the way Gomez has written this book that kept eliciting these knee-jerk, argumentative responses, and I’d find myself angrily relating some piece of what I read nearly every day that I was reading this book. I suppose even from the title, it’s apparent that he’s taking an incredibly provocative stance. The crux of his thesis is an analogy between music and books, and he aims to prove that books will inevitably follow music into the purely digital world. The comparison doesn’t sit so cleanly with me — recorded music is so different from books. Music existed for thousands of years before recorded music was invented. Yet books are so unto themselves. I find it unlikely in some apocalyptic scenario where books and digital gadgets were gone (and only real-time oral presentations were available for storytelling) that we would continue to see such complex narrative works.

While Gomez disclaims at the beginning that he’s not looking at how any of this will affect libraries and universities, that he’s looking primarily at adult trade publishing, I don’t think the debate can really exclude any of that. He might call that “bloat,” but I think those are key parts of the industry, almost more than adult trade publishing. I’m still concerned about how a push towards digital reading will impact educational communities that don’t have the financial ability to stay on top of potentially expensive technologies.

All that said, I do think at some point the right ebook reader will come along, and we’ll see a lot more books in electronic form. Right about now, I could do with an easy search function for this book — too bad Print is Dead isn’t on Google Books (Update: It is now). But I don’t really agree with Gomez that printing companies will instantly go out of business (what about printers that print things other than books?), and books will instantly become just nostalgic collectors items. I don’t think publishers are “irresponsible” for not pursuing electronic books more aggressively, since they did on the first push, but the technology wasn’t there yet. And it’s still not quite there. Books and print are still very alive.

Unless kids today seriously cannot take to reading books, in which case I don’t think just books will die, but novels and the types of works that are too tied to the book format themselves.