Why Books Matter, I: ADC, Part 24

Print media’s destiny is to disappear. Or is it?

There’s no shortage of pundits and (sometimes self-proclaimed) experts announcing their demise.

One is reminded of Samuel Clemens’ comment on the subject of his death.

The experts’ evidence is abundant: fewer newspapers, shorter newspapers, less frequent newspaper distribution (e.g., three-day “weeks”). Magazines that have disappeared or are available only in digital form.

And books? Among the oldest of formats for printed words?

You can still find ‘em. More than ever before, in fact.

In the old world, circa 1990 and earlier, “vanity press” was the name sneeringly assigned to publishers who, for a fee, would print and bind your book. Or mine.

At a time and in places where snobbery is viewed as a virtue, a vanity press “publication” didn’t “count.”

In academe, for instance, the vanity publication would not “count” toward achieving tenure or promotion. Only “juried” or “blind review” publications count.

And rightfully so. The blind review procedure ensures that someone other than the author, surely one with a vested interest, and the printer the authors’ paid to print their books, endorses the merits of the publication and does so free of any financial incentive.

Such procedures insist that regardless of a writer’s personal wealth, ability to pay won’t dictate publication. Having something to say that’s worth saying (and reading) is what merits book publication.

With blind review any author identification information is omitted so that a jury of peer scholars can assess a document on the document’s own intrinsic merits. Regardless of how the jury might think about its author.

If digital media have driven some of the so-called legacy media out of business or into the digital world, so too have digital media enhanced the content of legacy media.

Newspapers today find the web a medium better suited for breaking news and stories of the “news burst” variety, for instance. And newspapers find the printed paper a medium better suited for long-form journalism.

Or at least they should.

For books, it is the medium’s demonstrated ability to preserve and disseminate the otherwise evanescent that is one of their merits. The recording function transcends time; the transmission function transcends space.

On my shelf are small, compact recording media – floppy and stiff – filled with digital information I can no longer access. There is no device on which to “play” them.

My intro textbook from my freshman year as a communication major – still here, still readable, albeit with some information that is out of date.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *