When I saw the book Print Is Dead: Books In Our Digital Age, my great fear was that Jeff Gomez had found out the great secret I have been carrying around for fifteen years in hopes that nobody would find me out.
Fortunately for me, Gomez -- an Internet marketing executive for a book company -- made his way through his fascinating dissertation with many compelling observations of his own, though without coming close to my conclusion about the future.
My secret is safe for a few paragraphs more.
Print Is Dead is a comprehensive survey of everything anyone has written about changing media in an online world, with a large dollop of those unbearably ponderous "I love the feel of ink and paper" essays invariably written by those with microscopic readerships. (John Updike notwithstanding.) Then I would point out the countless essays about the smell of coffee and newspapers by those who now get their news online. The point is that Luddites will always defend the realm before the walls fall -- and they will always do so with a whiff of romanticism.
Me? I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
Gomez eloquently points the way to a future where books in their printed form fade away. The big headline: the power of books is in their content, not the print wrapper they come in. Gomez also calls the connection between books and content a "'false equation' that, if not changed, will doom the world of print to a ghetto of tweedy collectors and literary snobs." He posits a time where "books will -- after they have lost their general utility -- be retained in many people's lives as works of art."
Well, maybe ... but maybe not. The history of media is the story of evolution and survival, with threatened forms living to fight another day. Consider radio, network television, cable television, magazines, and even newspapers. They are much more likely to suffer and evolve than they are to be the subject of a snuff movie.
So may it be with books. Rather than a complete black-and-whiteout, books are likely to survive in some form beyond a half-life in Hef's mansion as an exotic conversation piece. The reason? Books are a great, portable medium, and are likely to stay that way -- just the way nothing on television will ever replace the radio talk show you listen to in your car.
Gomez, in contrast, comes to the perhaps predictable conclusion that the words will become detached from the book to become available "through whatever mechanism it takes to get words in front of a pair of curious human eyes ... "
The key word in Gomez's sentence is "words" and the notion that without the physical container of the book that words will still drive a reading experience.
"What's going to be transformed," he writes, "isn't just the reading of one book, but the ability to read a passage from practically any book that exists, at any time that you want to, as well as the ability to click on hyperlinks, experience multimedia, and add notes and share passage with others. All of this will add up to a paradigm shift not seen in hundreds of years."
Even with the assumption of digital form, Gomez is still talking about a medium that's read -- the medium of books, not the multimedia world of words, graphics, photographs, scraps, and video. He has removed the wrapper of books but believes the basic rap hasn't changed. For a publishing poobah, he has written a radical tome, but for my taste the story Print Is Dead really begins where Gomez ends his (print) book.
Here's what I mean: in the world of the Web, the creation of literary art will no longer be about books and reading, but about an online canvas that permits every form, every genre, and every media to co-exist. The written word will remain potent, but will be subservient to a new form that encompasses all forms of media online and off.
That's my secret: after fifteen years of hard labor my work is called, ironically, The Book of O'Kells, an allusion to both the diminishing power of print and the beautiful ancient Irish illustrated manuscript called The Book of Kells. My supernovel includes more forms than I can count (novel, novella, play, screenplay, and so on) with more to come.
Needless to say, nobody in the print publishing world gives a flying whatever.
Have I given my secret away too cheaply? No way. My secret is safe -- because nobody reads any more these days.