“Publishing: The Revolutionary Future”

Jason Epstein analysiert in seinem Artikel für die aktuelle New York of Review of Books (Nr. 4), welche Auswirkungen der digitale Wandel auf die Buchbranche haben wird:

The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good. The crisis of confidence reflects these intersecting shocks, an overspecialized marketplace dominated by high-risk ephemera and a technological shift orders of magnitude greater than the momentous evolution from monkish scriptoria to movable type launched in Gutenberg’s German city of Mainz six centuries ago. […]

The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant. Karl Marx wrote of the revolutions of 1848 in his Communist Manifesto that all that is solid melts into air. His vision of a workers‘ paradise was of course wrong by 180 degrees, the triumph of wish over experience. What melted soon solidified as industrial capitalism, a paradise for some at the expense of the many. But Marx’s potent image fits the publishing industry today as its capital-intensive infrastructure—presses, warehouses stacked with fully returnable physical inventory, its retail market constrained by costly real estate—faces dissolution within a vast cloud in which all the world’s books will eventually reside as digital files to be downloaded instantly title by title wherever on earth connectivity exists, and printed and bound on demand at point of sale one copy at a time by the Espresso Book Machine[1] as library-quality paperbacks, or transmitted to electronic reading devices including Kindles, Sony Readers, and their multiuse successors, among them most recently Apple’s iPad. The unprecedented ability of this technology to offer a vast new multilingual marketplace a practically limitless choice of titles will displace the Gutenberg system with or without the cooperation of its current executives. […]

Seiner plausiblen Prognose nach wird kein Stein auf dem anderen bleiben. Epstein betont die Chancen dieser Entwicklung, anstatt in eine kulturpessimistische Tirade zu verfallen.

Ich sehe die Ebook-Technologie als willkommene Ergänzung zum „klassischen“ Buch. Für viele Anwendungsfälle werden Ebooks ihre Vorläufer auf Papier ablösen: Nachschlagewerke, Fachbücher, Gebrauchsliteratur. Die iTunes-Generation wird ihre Harry Potters und Grishams ohne Berührungsängste am Display lesen.

Das gedruckte Buch wird weiterhin eine wichtige Rolle spielen. Wie auch in der Vergangenheit werden die Kulturpessimisten nicht Recht behalten, die mit erhobenem Zeigefinger altklug und neudumm gegen neue Technologien predigen.

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