Friday, April 18, 2014

The Future of the Book

I wish I had some cheeky title about the future of the book and how it's a thing of the past... but I don't.

The Future of the Book

David Finkelstein, An Introduction to Book History

Finkelstein and McCleery’s “The Future of the Book” in An Introduction to Book History is unfortunately outdated and does not provide a contemporary opinion of how print books are perceived. At first, I thought this chapter would discuss the differences between print and electronic books and the future of publishing physical books, but instead it dissected why publishers still exist and talked about the reading habits of adults.

            I could not find anything about David Finkelstein, which was frustrating given this book was published 11 years ago. Alistair McCleery is a professor of Literature and Culture at Edinburgh Napier University. Together they wrote this book which received mixed reviews, but the majority positive, yet not overwhelmingly so. The conclusion of this chapter states, “this chapter has not been about what the future of the book might be… [but] examined the factors that play a part in shaping and influencing the future.” This would be better suited at the beginning of the chapter to set readers up to better understand the authors’ intent.

            Finkelstein and McCleery first look at books through the scope of technological determinism. They maintain that books are still the basic tool of education in developing and developed countries, and that book is not an obsolete medium. Literacy is universal, and even though it is suggested that new technologies replace and kill the old, the book did not die out as radio, cinema, TV and internet became available through recent years. Finkelstein and McCleery discuss the importance of books are promoting and preserving culture, and the changing online landscape makes it easier for publishers to provide literature to those who seek it. Media conglomerates fuelled by the internet craze of the 90s used the new technological interests to complement and cross-promote existing interest in analog services and products. Disney is a good example of this: their awareness of the brand allowed them to increase publishing children’s books based on pre-established concepts like Mickey Mouse, which fueled interest in movies, theme parks, merchandizing, and in turn, more published books.

            The authors cited several studies regarding the death of readership. A study from 2004 emphasizes the decline in the number of pleasure readers. In 1982, 57% of adults indicated they read fiction for pleasure, and this decreased to 47% in 2002. In the UK in 2000, only 15% of adult readers claimed to read for pleasure for at least 11 hours a week. Finkelstein and McCreery denote that the problem with readership is not illiteracy but aliteracy: those who can read but who will not read books. They found that woman typically read more and more often than men, and that children who are encouraged to read in their home environment and have at least one parent who is also an enthusiastic reader tend to grow up reading extensively. The main issue with adults and the decrease in readership is the increase in other leisure activities.

In conclusion, they state that books will continue to fulfill needs although their functions will be more severely restricted to leisure. Readers of books have decreased in number, but reading still encourages the passionate habit, and finally that the State may need to intervene increasingly to promote and protect the reading of books as it does for other activities considered as positive assets within civil society.

Readership and interest in books (print or electronic) is a heavily debated topic. Many argue that readership is declining, yet others state that readership is steady or even increasing, and that our definition of literacy is the main thing that has changed.

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