What is a Book?

There has been a lot of discussion about ebooks destroying the publishing industry, and many people crying about the demise of the book.  It kind of begs the question, “what is a book?”  Is a book a collection of paper with a binding, or is it a collection of thoughts and ideas and language?  I think Amazon gets it right in their Kindle commercial when the actor says “this IS a real book.” 

I think the big problem for the publishing industry is that they have been trying to sell paper, when they should have been trying to sell thoughts and ideas and language.  Paper books are just the medium.  We should no more bemoan their loss than we did VHS tape– well maybe a bit more, they have been around for half a millennium or so.  Still, no one cried that VHS tapes were going away in favor of DVD.  We knew that it was what’s on the media that was important.  The same is true for the printed page.  It’s not the paper and ink.  To paraphrase Bill Clinton: “It’s the words, stupid.”

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