Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I originally wanted to title this article “So What Is a Book Anyway?” as the last few years have seen a shift in what actually constitutes a book.
Taking a step back, when we were children we were taught what a book was by being handed, naturally, a physical book. It had a cover that was hard, pages that could turn, and words that were read (and probably pictures, as well).
In recent years, however, with the proliferation of ebooks, books no longer have to be read in physical form. They can be read digitally over any number of devices.
Moreover, with the surge in audiobooks, a book no longer needs to be read by the reader, as, similar to when we were children, we can now have someone read it to us.
And up until recently, books could only be published and available to a mass audience if gatekeepers (publishers) said so. Now, though, with the aide of self-publishing, those gatekeepers do not hold all the power.
Today, anyone can be an author, anyone can publish a book over multiple formats, and anyone has the power to say what a book is.
So, again, what is a book?
It’s a bit of an abstract question, sure, but it gets at the heart of the issue in today’s world of “content.”
Speaking about books specifically, Porter Anderson over at Publishing Perspectives captures the idea nicely: “There’s a plethora of books, glutted markets choking in over-production, a readership staggered by myriad titles. It’s what I’ve taken to calling our Wall of Content.”
Content, the media we consume, is in abundance. There’s so much content now—both of exceptional and terrible quality—that it’s nearly impossible to even keep track of all the stuff one wants to read, watch and listen to.
We’re not just talking about books here; we’re talking about films, TV shows, podcasts, videos, apps, news articles, feature articles, essays, photographs and more.
And all this content can now be accessed through a never-ending slew of channels, many, if not all, of which are available through a phone that can fit in your pocket. To that end, as I’ve written about before, “reading, to some, [is] merely an app, on par with Angry Birds.”
Reading (books) is just another channel of content—another way to consume information, albeit a potentially more boring, time-consuming and expensive one.
With the ability to purchase books online and begin reading them on a screen instantly, as well as the capability for anyone to author and publish such content, the lines drawn around what constitutes a book are blurring.
This is neither an attack on self-publishing, nor on Amazon. Despite any misgivings I or anyone might have about either, the former has undoubtedly allowed some great books to be published and the latter has allowed readers to more conveniently buy them. What’s more, traditional publishers of all stripes are certainly contributing to the “wall of content.”
This is instead a question about our intellectual values, which is not an area that nestles comfortably with the business of publishing.
A book is different from the other forms of content listed above. At the risk of sound hokey or trite, there is something sacred about a book that there isn’t about any other form of media.
I believe that books have a history that is unique and sets them apart from all other forms of content. They are, in my view, an indelible part of the culture whose importance and status must be preserved.
I don’t know how we go about doing that, or how books will naturally evolve along with “content.” Perhaps, then, this is more of a mindset issue, rather than a practical one.
Regardless, I do fear that if we head in a direction in which we place less of an emphasis on the value of books, and begin to slide them into the realm of mere content, then we will lose something important within our intellectual culture.
To get all the ebook and digital publishing news you need every day in your inbox at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!