After my recent reading of Jeff Gomez’s new book Print is Dead: Books in our Digital Age, I began thinking about print media. Print is not dead, but it is fading as the preferred medium for reading. The world today, as Jeff Gomez points out in his book, is increasingly digital with hundreds of millions of people electronically linked. Electronic media appears to have surpassed print media as the primary means of recording and disseminating information and entertainment. Many, perhaps most, people read their news, get their information, communicate, share, take notes, and listen to music digitally. With more engagement and interaction with reading in a digital form, it becomes necessary to reconsider the book and its paramount place in historical scholarship. As the nature of reading changes from linear and page turning books to circular interlinked digital literature, the form or forum for producing and distributing words and literary content must also change so that people will read and share new historical discoveries, understanding, and knowledge.
Books, according to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, “are the last bastion of analog.” In a primarily digital world, why then do print publications remain the ideal for disseminating historical understanding? Historians research and write to have their work read and discussed, not just amongst their colleagues, but for the interested public as well. The digital realm can reach far beyond that interested public who might pass over a book in a bookstore, if a bookstore will carry a nuanced historical monograph in the first place. When considering that libraries worldwide only purchase roughly 200 copies of a book, it seems clear that access to and reading of that research and writing is inhibited. Logically then, in print form, historical work is not read widely. As Gomez suggests on his blog, “As a writer you can only hope that people read, or think critically, about your work. With a physical book, you know if they bought it but not if they read it (not mention whether or not it’s being discussed).”
Conversely, a study produced digitally and available on the World Wide Web to hundreds of millions of linked people will have a wider readership and probably a higher level of discussion amongst all readers. Read the rest of this entry »
Filed under: Books, Scholarship, Technology, Web, Accessibility, Audience, Digital History, Open Access, Open Source