Obituaries for “the book,” or at least the printed book, continue to pile up — for instance, this interesting pseudo-obituary and reframing of book as concept rather than container by Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine. It’s a fascinating piece; for libraries, here’s a provocative (if familiar) sentence: “In the long run (next 10-20 years) we won’t pay for individual books any more than we’ll pay for individual songs or movies. All will be streamed in paid subscription services; you’ll just “borrow” what you want.”
That prediction does recall much of the academic library’s experience with e-journals and digitized text databases for the past fifteen years. However, simply stating that it will be so overlooks the massive complexity involved in copyright and licensing agreements, and the question of who gets a seat at the table in the negotiations over such agreements. In addition, there remains the question of who Kelly’s “we” is, and how such streaming services might disenfranchise those who could not afford hardware, software, bandwidth, or the subscription services themselves. And so we have libraries.
Beyond all of that, there remains the simple, irrefutable fact that the printed book is not dead, and not even apparently ill. One million new titles in print this year — nearly double that number counting alternative channels like self-published and print-on-demand books — does not indicate anything like death. Books are not printed out of nostalgia or intractable tradition, but to make money, and to meet a (perceived) need or desire. It would appear that money is still being made, needs and desires are still being met, and libraries are still being filled by these objects.
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