Sunday Book-Thought 77

Discussions of the future of the book involve both kinds of misapprehensions. For the thematization of material change, we have the picture of electronic media driving the printed book and the institutions of print culture to the margins of discourse. (To paraphrase the closing line of the mad scientist in the movie Back to the Future, “Books? Where we’re going we don’t need books.”) For the present it’s enough to observe that there is nothing in the economics of publishing as a whole or the body of practice surrounding the use of the printed book that militates for its disappearance, even over the long term. And while it is certain that many forms and genres will migrate in part or in whole to an electronic mode of existence over the coming years, there are numerous other printed genres that stand to benefit from the new technologies, whether in the form of electronic text preparation, demand printing, Web advertising, or, what may be most important, the computerized inventory systems that have made possible new types of retail distribution that have vastly extended general public access to texts over the past five years in ways that are arguably more significant than the effects of electronic media. There will be a digital revolution, but the printed book will be an important participant in it.
Geoffrey Nunberg, ‘Farewell to the Information Age’, in The Future of the Book, ed by Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 103-138 (p. 104).

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