Different eras, these changes suggest, don’t just produce different kinds of books. Each also generates new ways of treating books – more specifically, new assumptions about what aspects of these physical objects deserve readers’ attention. When my students notice how different an eighteenth-century sermon collection looks from a twentieth-century airport paperback, the difference between a laminated chemistry textbook and the electronic version on their laptop begins to look less unprecedented. In the other direction, though, they begin to see that electronic technologies are in fact creating something radically new. Digital tools may not be upending our reading practices any more drastically than changing forms of print did. What they are revolutionizing is our ideas about reading. In the process, they’re remaking the printed past.
– Leah Price, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading (New York: Basic Books, 2019), p. 33.
The whole position of the book as a medium of communication in modern industrial society is being challenged and even conventional ways of producing conventional books may be completely altered by new means of composition and what is now called ‘on-demand publishing’ whereby individual copies of books may only be fabricated as a need for them arises. The importance of technological developments in the media of communication cannot be ignored and the role of the book in modern society undoubtedly will be changed by new technology.
Yet, when one looks around the world and recognises that many countries are still only at an early stage in working towards total literacy, the role of the book becomes even more confusing. Some developing societies, especially in, for example, Africa and Asia, are still moving towards the use of the book, whereas others, especially in Europe and America, are wondering if they are moving beyond it. The ability to read is, of course, so obvious int he use of the book that those of us who live in advanced societies sometimes tend to overlook not only the widespread illiteracy in many countries of the world but also the relatively recent development of what we like to think of as ‘literature societies’ and the non-use of literacy skills by many people in these societies.
– Peter Mann, From Author to Reader: A Social Study of Books (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), pp. 2-3.