Il blog di Antonio Tombolini

Here's how the book can be saved



  • Book is used here in the sense of book-experience. For a broader definition, see the one given by Kevin Kelly and adopted by the Slow Reading Manifesto[ here]. In this sense the book we’re talking about, the one we want to save, doesn’t have anything to do with the book understood as the book-product, in either its paper or electronic format.
  • Save is used here in the literal sense. In the digital Internet era, the book (book-experience, see above) is in grave danger. Everything seems to be shifting towards the fastest, shortest, quickest. By definition, however, the book-experience requires length, time, prolonged concentration and isolation.

What we need to do

  1. We need to intentionaly take a stand on the real danger of the book’s disappearance: do we side with those who strive to save the book or those who wait indifferently for its end or those who actually try to facilitate its disappearance? Quartum non datur.
  2. Assuming we side with those who strive to save the book, we must become mindful of the true battlefield: it’s the Internet-world, today’s world is already increasingly permeated with and governed by the Internet and its application in every corner of life. To think that we can save the book by taking it away from this world in order to protect it in other (illusive) worlds unrelated to the digital Internet era is complete insanity (if done in good faith) or connivance with the enemy (if in bad faith). Either we save the book in and for the Internet-world, or the book will die.
  3. Before marching into battle, however, we must know how to recognize our enemies. Noting that the most dangerous enemies of the book are those who, betting on the misunderstanding, set themselves up as the book’s champions but, rather than the book-experience (see above), actually mean the book-product from which they make a profit. All the big publishing groups are also part of this crowd: when they talk about the book, they’re really talking about the book-product which they produce and distribute in the forms that are still dominant today. They denounce every deviation of the book-experience from these forms as an attack on their role as guardians and devotees of the True Culture, but what they really fear is the destruction of the economic model they’ve been sitting upon idly for centuries.
  4. The enemy ranks also include those who, affected by innovation anxiety, endeavour so that the book becomes, with digital technology, everything but the book we know and love: multimedia, interactivity, etc…. These are the promoters of the so-called enhanced-book at all costs. A product that, even if we still want to call it a book, does nothing but destroy the mainstays of the book in the sense in which we’ve defined it. However, we can help those understand the fight and transform them, eventually, into valuable allies.
  5. Our allies are however all those who truly love the book, as understood in the definition provided above. In other words: all those who love to write and read books. Authors and readers, figures that are frequently coincident in the same person.
  6. Anyone who loves reading and writing books would want them to be more available and increasingly accessible in all possible forms: paper, digital, audio. And this is what we’re fighting for.
  7. If, during the first stages of battle, the salvation of the book passes through the ebook (the possibility of extending the book-experience to the domain of digital and Internet fruition), it cannot be considered saved unless the paper-book-product is also saved, saving it from itself, or better yet, from its unsustainable present days, caused by by its soi-disant promoters.
  8. Now the time is right not only to insist on the path of the ebook, but also to free the paper book from the virus that’s destroying it: the unsold copies and returns that only the big distributors get money from, at the expense of all the others: the readers, who have to pay more for the copies actually bought; the publishers, who loose a lot of money; the bookstores, who move around a lot of stock and pay for space to house stuff they don’t sell; the authors, who find it harder and harder to get published by the increasingly fearful publishers unless the work is a sure hit.
  9. The future, the true salvation of the book is in the digital first program: the ebook on the one hand, and its printed paper version on the other, and the Print On Sale option already makes this possible today. The paper copy is printed only when actually ordered and bought by a reader. No more returns. The good news, for anyone who sides with those who want to save the book, is that now it can be done.

We need to be prepared and determined: overturning the paper book production and distribution supply chain means going to fight on enemy grounds, and they’ll do anything to block the way. But we’re ready. Go!

By Antonio Tombolini
Il blog di Antonio Tombolini