Will Print Be Extinct ? Again?
It's been more than a decade since the first mass of commercial Web sites were launched and far longer since people began predicting the extinction of print. In March 1999, Princeton University history professor Robert Darnton wrote an article in the New York Review of Books that read:
Marshall McLuhan's future has not happened. The Web, yes; global immersion in television, certainly; media and messages everywhere, of course. But the electronic age did not drive the printed word into extinction, as McLuhan prophesied in 1962.
McLuhan, an English professor, media analyst and book author, predicted the demise of the printed word 43 years ago. And, as Darnton continued, "We have heard that prophecy repeated ever since the first e-book, a clunking monstrosity known as Memex, was designed in 1945. By now, the conventional book has been pronounced dead so often that we shouldn't be surprised to find that it seems in excellent health."
Over time, more and more jumped on the 'print will be extinct' bandwagon. But as Charlene Gaynor, executive director of the Association of Educational Publishers points out in "The State of the Industry" on p. 30 of the March/April issue, "progress has been very slow. For at least 20 years, people have been talking about how technology is going to take over …"
It's fast approaching a decade since online e-books began to catch the attention of segments of the reading public, and while e-book sales are reported as seeing double-digit annual growth, they still represent a small percentage of the book market.
This is one of the reasons some remain steadfast in their beliefs that printed books will not suffer from an impending e-book era. But others who used to believe that are starting to wonder. As Darnton wrote: "Why then do we continue to hear prophecies about the death of the book? Not because McLuhan was right but because movable type can't move fast enough to keep up with events."