In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Carr takes a skeptical view on ebooks. Noting a decline in sales of ebooks and ebook reading devices, he argues that the death of print might have been called too early. While his numbers might be flawed (as a commenter notes, declining sales of dedicated ebook reading devices do not amount to declining sales of ebook reading devices overall if growing tablet sales are accounted for), Carr nevertheless makes some interesting observations which focus on the cultural contexts of reading across media forms:

From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks … E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format — an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback.

I especially like the paperback metaphor, its emphasis on the ephemerality of the ebook resonates with what Alessandro Ludovico has to say about post-digital print. Ludovico argues that print as a medium that guarantees stability and longevity, and signifies through its very materiality something of lasting value, might be here to stay after all. The more ephemeral textual forms formerly realised through cheap print, however, are rapidly turning digital.

Helge Peters

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As a full-time research associate at the Hybrid Publishing Lab, Helge is currently investigating scholarly communications and learning environments with a focus on business models and digital technologies. He holds a BA in Strategic Communication and Planning from the Berlin University of the Arts and an MA (dist.) in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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