FutureBook carries a review of a BBC program on that old e-cliché, the Death Of The Book. Called “Books – The Last Chapter?”, the program is available on BBC’s iPlayer, but only for people in the UK. Judging from review writer Philip Jones’s description, it doesn’t sound like I’m missing very much.

Jones notes that the show started from the position that it was a sad thing that print books were on the way out, and went on from there. It seems to have some rather odd blind spots, such as not really looking at why readers were finding e-books more attractive, and doesn’t seem to have paid much attention to the real issues.

Typically Farenheit 451 turned up at one point, but [show host Alan] Yentob managed to mangle the point, by saying that that though books were banned (and burnt), rebels had learned them off by heart to preserve them. The "them" here was ambiguous, but since Yentob was carrying a physical copy of the book the implication was not. But in the Bradbury classic it is the other way round: the rebels are not part of a print preservation movement, they are protecting the content not the package. Had Bradbury offered them a Kindle they’d have jumped for joy.

I agree with Jones that it’s a bit annoying that we keep seeing this kind of poorly-thought-out luddite/nostalgia piece, though it’s probably to be expected over the next few years. But people who like to smell books really need to wake up and smell the coffee instead.


  1. Please don’t insult the Luddites by associating with this type of fear-mongering. The Luddites had legitimate grievances about the ways in which the machines were being used to render them redundant/more thoroughly and intensively exploit them.

  2. Here is a useful smell spot test: To determine if a given book is electrostatic (copier fuser) printed or off-set (wet ink) printed smell the page. POD will not emit smell while off-set will smell from ink volatiles.

  3. I watched this program. I will say on behalf of Yentob that he didn’t editorialise himself. He simple travelled to visit and interview a range of publishers and writers on the broad subject of the transition to digital media.

    Included were tape of writers Alan Bennett, Douglas Coupland along with interviews with Ewan Morrison and Gary Shteyngart, publisher Gail Rebuck, agent Ed Victor and librarian Rachael Morrison.

    Mike Shatzkin was actually excellent in it ! a lone voice of the sane imho.

    However it was cringe-inducing to listen to the puffed up pomposity of Ewan Morrison and Gail Rebuck. Her pontificating about publishers as ‘curators’ of the written word was something to behold.

    Broadly speaking we basically witnessed a range of people who had grown up with paper books and who, through their intense personal relationship with paper had become fetishised in the way some men become fetishised with ladies stockings. This was most palpably evidenced by Gary Shteyngart’s ramblings about his young life with paper books.

    It was transparently clear to me that this motley crew were utterly incapable of producing any rational assessment of the transition to digital media as a result of their malady.

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