The Changing World of Book Reading: The Implications of E-Books, by Emmet Carmody

My personal project focuses on our fast-changing relationship with books, giving particular attention to the publication of e-books and its implications for readers, writers, and publishers. The story of the written word is a remarkable one, which has seen mediums evolve from the simplicity of stone tablets to intricately complex technologies such as tablet devices and e-readers. Needless to say, this journey highlights the advanced accomplishments of human technology and engineering, but it also pays testament to the importance of our relationship with words and books; though the medium may change, we have always given massive amounts of attention to the creation and consumption of shared ideas. E-books have yet again modified this relationship, and their rise to prominence has brought the commercial world of books to a crucial inflection point. The potential of e-books can also be harnessed to drastically alter book-based education in schools and universities, and has created unprecedented possibilities in archiving. As with the onset of any wide-scale change, however, the concept of digital books has its opponents. Many contest that the digitalisation of the written word is a challenge to the existence – or at very least the prominence – of hard copy books. A charge frequently levelled towards e-books is that they lack the magic of traditional printed books, and deficiently alter the ritual of reading. Naturally, not all arguments against the prioritisation of e-books are sentimental – those economically involved in printing and publishing industries are understandably concerned about what the future holds. As we alter books and the ways in which we read them, we also alter all book-based commerce that surrounds them, requiring both social and commercial adaptations. I am fascinated by watching these adaptations unfold, and observing how the potential of e-books can be harnessed in both the commercial sphere and on a larger social level. My seminar blog will offer personal musings and interpretations of the implications of these changes.

Though e-readers were initially released and marketed around 5 years ago (the First Generation Kindle was released in November of 2007), it is since 2010 that the popularity of e-books has really soared. In the last two years, debate has intensified between e-book enthusiasts and those who refuse to embrace them. An interesting way of approaching this argument is to question what the book actually is. Johanna Drucker, author and visual theorist, argues that hard copy books and e-books are ideas and concepts that simply take up different types of space:

“The pernicious effect of introducing a new technology is that proponents of the invention tend to mis-characterize older forms… Writing persists, to this day, with its intimacy and immediacy, while print forms and other mass production technologies continue to carve up the space of communication according to an evermore-complex division of ecological niches. Books of the future depend very much on how we meet the challenge to understand what a book is and has been.”

The connotations of looking at e-books this way are interesting: e-books need not be considered a misrepresentation of a traditional hard copy book, but a selective representation of our ideas, which will continue to occupy a number of mediums.

That being said, the traditionalists bemoan the increased diversity in the ways that we read text, and see the e-reading boom as more of a hindrance than an evolution. Many well-known authors, such as Johnathan Franzen, have spoken out against e-books, citing varying reasons, ranging from the potential deterioration of the print industry, to the simple lack of tangibility possessed by a hard copy print edition. Whatever the case, e-books and e-readers have began to integrate themselves into both society and the market-place in earnest, and it looks as if those involved in book writing, printing and publication will simply have to do their best to adapt. E-books are currently outselling hard-copies, and their immense public popularity show no signs of letting up.

On initially setting out on my personal project I would was of the impression that the new e-market would be terrible news for most publishers, but it would seem printers are those in the most trouble, a sentiment which was heavily expressed by Cork University Press production editor, Maria O’ Donovan, at a guest lecture in the university’s Brookfield complex, on Tuesday 6th March of this year. In actuality, many publishers are flourishing in the digital market, thanks to their ability to exercise cost regulation over e-books much less problematically than with hard copies. For example, second-hand copies of e-books cannot be sold in discount stores or second-hand book stores, and publishers have a greater say in what price a book should be available at, whereas a commercial bookshop may have more power to decide what books should be sold at discount prices. This agent pricing model allows publishers to charge a stable amount of money for the purchase of a bestseller, and because of its digital format it cannot be resold or as easily passed around. Increased efforts invested by publishing companies in formatting their e-books will also make piracy more difficult, though it remains next to impossible to avoid the piracy of downloadable mediums entirely.

E-books also have a potentially instrumental role to play in the field of education. Digital archives and online educational resources have already revolutionised scholarly work, and massive amounts of money are being annually invested in digital humanities. Websites that archive books in a digital format and host multiple versions of encoded literary texts are plentiful. V-machine.org, for example, has proven to serve as a fore-runner for a lot of online text projects. Another extremely valuable resource, that has proved massively popular with e-reader owners, is the extensive digitally archived book collection of Project Gutenberg. Perhaps the welcome message displayed on the Project Gutenberg website best describes what the online archive offers:

Project Gutenberg offers over 38,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online. We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers.”

As a volunteer effort, the website is quite remarkable and shows what is possible in collective digital archiving. The majority of the texts available on the site have been made available in a variety of formats – plain text, HTML, PDF, EPUB and MOBI – so that anyone who owns or has access to a computer, e-reader or tablet device can access and download them. Many similar sites exist, with the number of public domain works being made available for legitimately free download expanding on a daily basis. Librivox is similar volunteer effort to Project Gutenberg, in that is an open source project that houses the largest online catalogue of audio-books, all of which are recorded and amassed by volunteers. Librivox’s founder, Hugh McGuire, is far from skeptical about the future books, and stresses that the “creation part (of books, and book archives) is as important if not more important than the consumption part”, and finds the new dynamics of interaction and collaboration in the creation of books has been facilitated by the digitilisation of books.

Indeed, it is difficult to not be impressed and encouraged by these digital book projects, which have already changed the landscape of education and recreational reading alike. Whether e-readers themselves will be implemented into education remains to be seen; the issue of cost is obviously a problematic issue, and other minor inconveniences of e-reader based education have been pointed out, such as the lack of page numbers in the vast majority of e-books. However, it is important to remember that e-readers and e-books are a very young technology, and patience must be exercised if we wholly intend to integrate them into classroom learning. Personally, I find the growth of the e-reader and e-book market to be positive on almost all fronts and, given the efficiency and growing popularity of books in the digital format, the introduction of e-book based education is imminent. I remain skeptical of the doomsayers, who suggest the growth of the e-book will ultimately result in the extinction of the hard-copy. I am of the opinion that a relatively steady balance will eventually be struck in the book market, which will more than likely favour the production of the e-book, with a certain amount of hard-copies continuing to be produced. Picture-books and poetry books, for example, would remain to be far more effective through the medium of print. Books containing large amounts of photography would require considerable resolution, which may eventually be achieved but as of now is next to impossible to acquire on an e-reader.  Poetry reading, as an art form in itself, is a tradition I cannot see poets parting with any time in the near future. All of those involved in book production at this moment in time can only do their best to adapt to the changing book environment. Who’s to say that eventually print-copies and e-books can’t share a symbiotic relationship – a complimentary existence as representations of our ideas? I, for one, would certainly not rule it out.

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Understanding Acts of Memory and Digital Archives – By Michelle Moore

My personal research blog will document the importance of digital archiving. This blog emphasises the importance of archiving for the upkeep and preservation of knowledge and culture particularly oral storytelling and film as it explores acts of memory and digital archives. In turn, the audio heritage and the visual heritage bring the past and the future together through digitality.

This blog also explores the process of digitization and the advantages this process has in securing material into digital archives. It highlights the importance of preservation and why it matters.

To begin, you will find a video clip on my blog which is narrated by Harrison Wick, an archivist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In this clip Wick highlights the need for digitization of artefacts and documents which are one of a kind before they disappear. Significantly, he emphasises the importance of this digitization process as being an access tool rather than a preservation tool. Of course, preservation is important but in this case, accessibility to these magazines, newsletters, manuscripts, artefacts and documents prevails as he says “So everyone can enjoy them”.

IUP Special Collections Video Clip – The Need for Digitization via Youtube

This clip is a beautiful compilation of the university’s history, but only some of the university’s history. It is interesting to see the gap in the footage as some of the documents Wick mentions have not been digitalized. This gap further emphasises the need for the process of digitization of historical, cultural and social material in the rapid globalisation of the modern world. This is IUP’s unveiling of treasures for modern technology which is consequently being practised by many other archivists, museums, councils and institutions around the world.

Having a keen interest in culture, this student’s blog concentrates on two local projects in digitization and preservation. I discuss my own experience in the Cork Northside Folklore Project where I first developed an interest in digital archives.

In the summer of 2010, I gained experience within a research environment which involved duties in digital archiving. I spent this time working with the Cork Northside Folklore Project. As part of my experience, one of my tasks was to transcribe audio recorded interviews to the page, Microsoft Word documents in particular. These documents were then saved and filed electronically on an external hard drive. The accuracy of information was a main objective of this task. The preservation of these interviews with their oral storytelling and remedies for local customs and practices are invaluable. As part of local heritage, it was essential to transcribe and record these findings and interviews because otherwise they would be lost forever. As a result, I gained an appreciation for local folklore and history. The transcription of many audio interviews is a mammoth job.

During my time at the Cork Northside Folklore Project there were researchers working on another project entitled Cork Memory Map. There is an interview on my blog from RTE Radio 1 with Dr Cliona O’Carroll of the Department of Folklore and Ethnology at University College of Cork in which she discusses the purpose of this project. This radio clip contains some excerpts of what the project has to offer. At times normal conversations like the ones in this clip are littered with unfinished sentences but it is argued this brings an authenticity to the project as these bytes represent everyday life in Cork City. Digitization has allowed for elements such as laughter, accents, delivery, timing and warmth to be captured and stored as these may have been lost in the written word and on the page. The researchers’ fieldwork proved fruitful as can be seen on the website. All of the audio recordings became known as the “Sounds of Cork” and they were all to be digitized. A Google map of Cork is used for this project. One only has to move their cursor over an area of Cork City and click to hear a story that coincides with that place. Although it is still a work-in-progress, this site allows local history to be preserved and is considered to be of the up-most folkloric, cultural and social value. It is possible for anyone in the world who has access to the internet to gain an understanding of the richness of Cork’s local oral storytelling traditions at their fingertips.

Furthermore, I researched the preservation of film in Ireland for this blog. In particular I looked at the Irish Film Institute Archive. Not only is film a means of entertainment, it is important as a historical document as well as an aesthetic work and form of cultural expression. Like all heritages, the cinematic heritage of Ireland needs to be preserved and recently the IFI Irish Film Archive launched a campaign to protect the Irish national film archive. 

This webpage highlights that the IFI archive building in Temple Bar, Dublin has reached capacity and critically, they cannot accept any more material which means that valuable collections are in danger of being lost. In response to this danger the IFI developed an innovative partnership with the National University of Ireland, Maynooth to build a new Preservation Centre. In an in-depth interview with Kasandra O’Connell, the Head of the IFI Film Archive, O’Connell emphasises the need for a new centre to store collections. She also highlights that the targeted date for completion and opening of the centre by spring 2013.

As a way of asking the film community, their friends and partners to help them collectively fund the shortfall of €300,000 by spring 2013, they produced and broadcasted this clip below. Actress Saoirse Ronan appears in this lovely montage of Irish film throughout the ages.

IFI Film Archive Preservation Fund Clip via YouTube

This beautiful array of Irish film throughout history is an advertiser’s dream. It makes me wonder about the expenses of this one minute clip. The money spent on this could surely have gone into the preservation centre. But then again, this is the power of advertising and it is possible that the funds raised because of this clip outweigh the costs of production.

Significantly, the fact that scholars of the humanities are embracing digital technology highlights the urgency and importance in the preservation of literature, history and culture of all work. This blog also discusses the Bayeux Tapestry in brief. As an extremely valuable piece of artwork, it is exciting to find that there have been attempts to digitalise it and to also extinguish fears of other art, oral storytelling and film being lost in the transgression of the digital age. 

Works Cited

Newspapers:

Hozier-Byrne, John. “Op-ed Kasandra O’Connell, Head of the IFI Film Archive, on our Cinematic Heritage.” The University Observer, 26 January 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

Websites:

Foys, Martin Kennedy. “The Bayeux Tapestry Digital Edition.” Scholarly Digital Editions. Foys, Martin Kennedy, 2002. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

Irish Film Institute. “About Irish Film Archive.” Irish Film Institute, 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

Radio Telefis Eireann. “RTE Radio 1.” RTE.ie. Radio Telefis Eireann, 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

University College of Cork. “UCC Home.” University College of Cork, 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

University College of Cork. “The Cork Memory Map.” University College Cork. University College of Cork, 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

University College of Cork. “Research Profiles: Bealoideas: Dr Cliona O’Carroll.” University College of Cork. University College of Cork, 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

University College of Cork. “The Cork Northside Folklore Project.” University College Cork, 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.

YouTube Videos:

IFIcinema. “IFI Irish Film Archive Preservation Fund.” Online Posting. YouTube, 3 November 2011. Web. 15 March 2012.

IUPVideo1875. “The Need for Digitization (IUP Special Collections)” Online Posting. YouTube, 6 June 2011. Web. 15 March 2012.