Tuesday, May 16, 2006

e-books and their implications [NYT Magazine, 14 May 2006]

Worth reading..... consider this, for example:
".....once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or "playlists," as they are called in iTunes), see note (*) the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual "bookshelves" — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf's worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these "bookshelves" will be published and swapped in the public commons. Indeed, some authors will begin to write books to be read as snippets or to be remixed as pages...."

There's a lot of potential in this flexibility; at the same time, what happens when extended narratives or arguments that develop over several chapters get "snippetized?" How can we be sure that readers
a) know how to recognize a snippet for what it is, and
b) know how to locate the snippet's original source, with all of its context?

(*) NOTE: One of the complaints I've heard about iTunes is that collections of songs organized as "albums" get broken apart into singles. Those of us old enough to remember listening to Sgt Pepper all the way through will understand this.


At 10:48 PM, Blogger S. Clark said...

What really concerns me has to do with the left-out books, out of print, still in copyright, that can't be made available on Google (even though in many cases already scanned.) It strikes me that a very great deal of 20th century scholarly publications are in this class, newly marginalized because not available for searching. What are we going to do about how we publish scholarly books?

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Michael Faris said...

Just a quick note on iTunes:

I too am a fan of the album, for its art and the cohesiveness that an album can develop. I feel oddly conservative in that I too fear that the album is dying, whereas most of my peers seem to be happy downloading a few songs from an album.

One issue is that the whole idea that an album is cohesive was going out before iTunes, as albums seemed to slowly become bought because of the hit or two on them, surrounded by a bunch of poor music.

That's not to say there still aren't great albums being produced. In fact, I think that if recording companies want to survive by selling a material product (not that I'm a fan of recording companies), their best bet is to make and sell cohesive albums, albums that people will want to buy whole. (Here I'm thinking of recent albums such as Green Day's American Idiot and Tori Amos's CDs, as well as Sufjan Steven's CDs.)

(And another quick aside: I've heard the argument that the "album" was a rather late construct in the selling of music. I'm not musical historian, so I don't know about this, but it's important to remember how much our genres are constructed and how revering and privileging certain genres is, in a way, more sentimentality than "how things should be.")


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