Keep Poking It With a Stick

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16 July 2009

Eric Obenauf has written an impassioned take on “the death of print” over at the Brooklyn Rail.  Print is not dead; it can and will thrive, he says.  The piece is a kind of ode to the vibrancy of small and independent presses, and a celebration of the bursting of the corporate book bubble. 

Click here to read the full article.  Some highlights:

Since large publishers affect the flow of the market by sheer mass, the media seem content to regurgitate this overly hyped sea-change in corporate mentality and declare the death of print. However, the reality of the situation is much less dramatic: there is space for print not only to exist in modern society, but to thrive, if undertaken on a realistic scale…

The goal for book publishers, most simply put, should not be to undertake a virtual arms race of developing technology with both the Internet and media, or to try to compete on a bloated scale with music and film, or even to translate a work to conform to an undetermined potential future model. The mission for book publishers and print media at large should be to create a product that is irreplaceable and indispensible…

I believe that book publishing will re-generate in the near-future into two separate models: the corporate model, which strives to attain the widest possible “readership” in as short of a time-span as possible by use of electronic devices, interaction, and gimmicks; and the print model, sustained by independent, university, and re-branded imprints of large houses, that believe as [Dave] Eggers, in reading as a “beautiful rich tactile experience,” and who are satisfied with a book selling five thousand copies…

The corporate ideology has run its course in book publishing, which spells the death of print to many. But as evidenced by the bevy of awards (including Nobels and Pulitzers), the best-sellers, and the critical acclaim of the work being done consistently by independent presses, print can succeed on a responsible scale. These are the small, spunky houses unafraid to publish new ideas and new writers and work of substance, holding steady in their responsibility to the reading public as purveyors of culture. While this seems revolutionary in modern times, it was the dominant manner of thinking a half-century ago. It could be so again.

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