Art+Politics+History+Culture

The Publishing Revolution

Recently I had a conversation with someone who mentioned the book was on the verge of being extinct. The person compared books to 8-tracks and cassettes, which was an arrogant and fickle comment, considering the book has been around since 1439. When Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical moveable type printing in Germany, it was the first time in history that information, via books, could be spread to the masses instead of just the aristocracy. And so began the Printing Revolution and the dissemination of ideas such as: the Scientific Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. It took Europe out of the Dark Ages. Now let’s compare the 8-track. When the first affordable 8-tracks were introduced to the public by RCA in the late 50’s, they were a success thanks to the automobile culture because the Ford Motor Company introduced factory-installed models. By the late 70’s their popularity declined and people were interested in the compact cassette, which lasted from the late 70’s to the early 90’s before the compact disc hit the scene.

So the 8-track and the cassette were only around for about twenty years a piece, where as the book has been around since European empires set out to conquer the new world. Fair comparison? No, the comparison is dull. Let’s move forward to the late 20th and 21st century, the internet has revolutionized how we access books and how they are produced. Many big brick-and-mortar bookstores closed down while some remained intact, many libraries closed certain days and hours, (more related to government budget cuts), yet many independent bookstores have appeared all over the world. When Amazon first started out they only sold books. Now we have introduced e-readers to the public, and people are reading books on their Kindles, I-Pads, Nooks, smart phones and their computers. Just because there are more electronic mediums to read, doesn’t mean the actual book is going extinct. On the contrary, it is stronger than ever.

The do-it-yourself culture has taken the world by storm and creative types all over have started an independent publishing revolution. Independent publishers of the world unite and take over! For many independent publishers or writers who didn’t have a voice prior to this new revolution, they now have an opportunity to blog, have an audience, put out material, or simply refine their craft. That’s a better and fairer comparison, the internet and Johannes Gutenberg. So if anyone ever tells you that the book is in danger of becoming extinct, tell them to simply look around.

* Photo is of me in Berlin with the most beautiful sculpture in the world, paying homage to Gutenberg and some of the most important thinkers in German history.

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