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People have been proclaiming the death of the book (or merely of the author or the reader) since the advent of printing, with early laments for example that mass production of text via the printing press would enfeeble the mind and involve the loss of skills required for creation of a 'book' - ie an illuminated manuscript.

In 1894 Scribner’s Magazine forecast the imminent death of the printed book, supposedly about to be immediately supplanted by audio recordings -

Printing, which Rivarol so judiciously called the artillery of thought, and of which Luther said that it is the last and best gift by which God advances the things of the Gospel—printing, which has changed the destiny of Europe, and which, especially during the last two centuries, has governed opinion through the book, the pamphlet, and the newspaper—printing, which since 1436 has reigned despotically over the mind of man, is, in my opinion, threatened with death by the various devices for registering sound which have lately been invented, and which little by little will go on to perfection.

More recently there have been recurrent pronouncements that the book (whether as text or as a physical artefact) will shortly disappear ... indeed that its demise is a good thing.

Sceptics may consider that such forecasts are as illfounded as some of the visions by pundits highlighted here and here ... flying cars, the death of the state, universal brotherhood, the end of mortality, 500 tv channels that are actually worth watching ...

Realists have noted that the number of titles (and their overall affordability) is increasing and asked whether mechanisms such as Print On Demand (POD) and Publish On Demand will facilitate access to the vast backlist of titles. It is dangerous to confuse the demise of the book with the pain suffered by some publishers.

Others have noted the durability of print formats, for example Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Why Paper Is Eternal (PDF), questioning the enthusiasm in works such as
The Book is Dead (Long Live the Book) (Sydney: UNSW Press 2008) by Sherman Young for 'rescuing' text by migrating it online and discarding "old-fashioned" hardcopy.



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version of February 2008
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics