May 2009 | Scott Brown

The Books Is Dead, Pt. 2

As I mentioned earlier, I'm giving a talk on Thursday in Columbus on the end of the printed book. Here's a brief preview:

The subject of the end of the printed book, presaged by the Amazon Kindle and the Sony eBook, is often accompanied by an analogy to the replacement of vinyl records with CDs and now MP3s. This is not a useful comparison, except in that MP3s and e-books are both digital media.


A book is not like a wax cylinder, however.

Recorded music is a new technology. Music playback devices are just over 100 years old, and they have evolved constantly and rapidly during that time. No one from even twenty years ago would recognize this device as a replacement for the LP or CD.

Yet most contemporary readers would recognize this as a book, although it dates from the Middle Ages.

Books are a very mature technology, and therefore hard to replace. But not impossible.

It would be nice to take some solace in the fact that electronic books are far inferior to printed books, yet the history of the book shows that we (readers) have always chosen cheap and convenient alternatives.

Illuminated manuscripts were replaced with unadorned printed books. Hand-painted miniature illustrations were replaced by crude woodblock prints in books. Letterpress printing was replaced by crude machine-powered electrotyped books. Cloth bindings replaced leather. Paper textured to look like cloth replaced cloth. Paperbacks supplanted hardcovers as the preferred medium. Vibrant chromolithographs were replaced by 3-color halftones. And that's why ebooks will replace printed books. And now they're calling my flight. See you  in Columbus.