Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Bright Future For The Book

When the SONY Reader was invented in 2006 and Amazon introduced its Kindle a year later, many pundits predicted the rapid decline of printed books.  As digital sales the last five years have shown, the experts were wrong.  Print sales have continued to climb year-to-year for many years, while ebook sales have fallen in the same period.  Roughly 80% of the book market still comes from printed books.  So is the traditional form of the book dead?

Not at all, but it still is in danger.  Ebooks are cheaper, available 24-7, portable, can be read with enhancements like video, and match with the lifestyle trend of everything being in a digital box.  But I despise e-books.  There’s nothing like holding a printed book in your hand, smelling the ink, feeling the paper.  Seeing the book on the shelf reminds you of what you have read and who you are.

In the Book by Amaranth Borsuk, an examination of the future and history of books is undertaken in an interesting and insightful manner.  It is worth noting that the book we know of today is the product of other formats that, with the advent of new technologies, will morph into new forms.

For instance, the codex (the way we have bound pages) didn’t immediately replace scrolls.  In fact, scrolls and codex books made of both parchment and papyrus existed side by side within Roman culture for centuries.

Another interesting tidbit; Gutenberg died never having profited from his invention or his standardized Bible.  In 1455 he lost a lawsuit that led him to forfeit his print shop.  But his printing press vastly accelerated the speed of book production by allowing hundreds of identical copies of a single text to be printed.

Of course one can’t discuss books without talking about copyright protection and piracy.  If intellectual property is not protected fiercely, we have a Wild West approach to the life’s work of struggling writers.

The world’s first protection for writers came about in 1709 under the Statue of Anne in England, which gave ownership of work to its author, but protecting those rights only for 14-28 years.

According to Borsuk:  "While the Statute of Anne had restricted copyright to a maximum of 28 years, British booksellers fought to maintain perpetual copyright during a 60-year period known as the ‘battel of the booksellers.’ The landmark case Donaldson vs. Beckett (1774) struck down perpetual copyright and confirmed the copyright term established by the Statute, bringing a wealth of material into the public to domain and setting a precedent that would be adopted and adapted around the world in the ensuing decades.  The United States would pass its own Copyright Act, An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, in 1790, revising it periodically over the next two centuries.  As the name suggests, it aimed to protect the rights of authors while also ensuring works would enter the public domain within a reasonable timeframe."

Borsuk also noted: “International respect for copyright was established by the 1886 Berne International Copyright Convention and the American International Copyright Treaty of 1891, defining important protections for reprints and works in translation.”

The book has a long history – and hopefully an even longer future.  Just what is a book?  

“A book is an experience… a book starts with an idea.  And ends with a reader,” says Julie Chen and Clifton Meador in How Books Work.

I conclude with this excerpt from Borsuk’s book:

“The thing we picture when someone says “book” is an idea as much as an object.  As the history of the books changing form and its mechanical reproduction reveal, it has transformed significantly over time and region.  The clay tablet, papyrus scroll, and codex book each were shaped by the materials at hand and the needs of writers and readers.  Those materials in turn shaped the content with which such books were filled.  The mechanical reproduction for both texts and book objects in the industrial age and the start of the twentieth century helped solidify the codex as an efficient, portable, marketable object, available in hardbound or paperback covers, and distributed through networks of bookshops, libraries, and book fairs worldwide.  While we now have Kindles, digital book apps, and a number of web services for accessing books in PDF form, the system remains relatively unchanged:  the book is a commodity.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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