The Digital Revolution & Privilege

Last week’s post was about my experience at the Buch Wien and the resistance to what opportunities the digital revolution could bring. I have still been thinking about this topic and have a new aspect I didn’t consider in the last article.

The book industry has always looked down upon change with a very critical eye. Socrates advised against writing, believing it was the first step of humanity’s downfall, whereas Johannes Gutenberg and his invention were dismissed by some as being harmful to society. What if anyone could have access to knowledge? Gasp!

Perhaps that is the reason I get frustrated when people look down on digital progress. It’s often done with great contempt and, in my experience, often stems from a mindset where reading is and should remain a privilege of the educated. If owning books, let alone reading them, is a status symbol, publishers become elite institutions of great respect.

However, in a digital world, where knowledge is accessible for anyone with an Internet connection, this game changes drastically. Everyone can purchase books from all over the world and download them to their eBook Readers. More dangerously even, suddenly readers become writers, without ever being dependent on the elite knowledge of a publisher who only gives them comparably very limited royalties in return. The consumers have all the power and many publishers feel powerless. Out of this fear, such resistance is understandable. What should be a publishers’ business model in a digital world? What business model should any newspaper’s or TV broadcaster’s be?

I have to admit I don’t have the answer. All I can say is innovate and get excited about innovating. At the Frankfurter Buchmesse a few weeks ago, there was a company presenting its virtual reality technology and how they want to use it to allow readers to experience books in entirely new ways. Isn’t that exciting, the potential technology has to tell stories in new ways? Imagine what amazing experiences could be possible soon?

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