P2P Books and More

Do Google’s new Google Print technology, and Amazon’s Search Inside the Book service herald the coming demise of the codex?
I’m thinking primarily not of e-books, electronic services like Safari, and P2P and other Net-based trading of ripped copies of books. I’m thinking about the effect of things like Google Print and Amazon on our collective, social understanding of what a book actually is. The recording industry has experienced this in a small way, with the demise of the record album as an art form in itself and the return of the single. Along with MTV and other economic issues, P2P has had much to do with this. But the record album is a relatively recent innovation; its demise will not be missed much, or for long. It may be back in some way, or not. Money will be made and lost, but outside a relatively narrow circle, few people will or should care much.
Books, though, have been around for centuries. The form of the codex has been central to learning and discovery in Western civilization. Anarchy in the library may not be an unalloyed good thing. Look ahead 5, 10, 15, or 20 years. Google Print – style technologies will undoubtedly be far more advanced. Will we still be using books as we have used them until today?

2 thoughts on “P2P Books and More

  1. a few comments:

    1) Google Print & Amazon will continue what the net in general has been doing for years: eliminating the need for physical copies of reference books.

    2) novels will never be supplanted by the net (or Google print) because people will always want physical copies.

    3) what has not been commented on yet are the profound implications of Amazon/Google Print for literary criticism and, more importantly, historical research. The field of history in paricular has become hopelessly bogged down with bullshit theory, mainly because our traditional resources and methods (a library of books, special collections scattered across the globe, reels of microfilm) are either exhausted or self-limiting. What will be truly amazing for historians is when not every texbook, newspaper and special collection in the world are assembled under a single Google history search.

  2. Reading a book in a serial fashion (instead of honing in on a desired search result):
    a) P2P “e-books” will not supplant traditional books.
    1) People with certain visual disabilities (no matter how much “e-book” technology is optimized).
    2) There is a strong sense of legitimacy with regard to actually finding a physical text, being able to pick it up, thumb through the table of contents or index, and scan the words on the page.
    3) Some of us truly dislike staring at computer screens for hours on end and we would much rather a physical book rather than to expose our eyes to more harsh radiation (from screens).
    4) A physical book has (naturally) fixed print, but an “e-book” can always be modified (formatting, actual text, or otherwise).

    b) Compare P2P books with P2P audio. On the market, there are audiophile speakers galore. Many people play their music on computers (instead of a regular stereo). There is very little difference, if at all, between the output one experiences when played through a computer vs. an actual stereo system. Most people do not notice the slight audial differences between an MP3 compared to a regular .WAV (128 kbs/sec) file (the uncompressed version of an audio track from a CD). (Yes, I’ve ripped tracks before, but only for my own, personal space shifting use.)

    c) Similarly, compare DIVX to DVD. With DIVX, the video quality is a very close approximation to what you may get on DVD (aside from some pauses here and there). There is very little transmutation in terms of perceptible output.

    d) Compare a vs. b&c — the “delta” is that there is a large difference in perception with respect to “e-books” vs. regular books (as opposed to DIVX/DVD or MP3/CD).

    Not to fear – books are here to stay. As tech-oriented as I am, I cannot stand e-books. Even if it’s free, I would much rather get the actual book (regardless of physical effort and time (and sometimes money towards the purchase)). Besides, bookstore culture is too heavily ingrained in our society. Perhaps you can thank Borders, Barnes and Noble, and/or Starbucks (sitting in one of these places). Somehow, it’s very comforting to be able to pick up a physical book and also to kill time just book browsing. I highly doubt that one would encounter such relief browsing through e-books.

    And, one additional note – years subsequent, when much time has passed, authors (such as yourself) of literary works will be able to leave behind a legacy of print wrapped up in a traditional … book or an otherwise bound volume of work. Compared with the Internet where there is very little sense of organization (and indeed very little cohesiveness with respect to search engines), someone someday will be able to find your work(s) in a library in somewhere USA — without having go through the “hit or miss” jungle of the Internet. 🙂

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