Joe Esposito seems to be keen to see things ramp up to the vast scale that the Internet can provide. His piece at The Scholarly Kitchen suggests that reading machines may be the way we can cope. However don’t the facts that he adduces about our limited reading abilities (in terms of volume) suggest rather that the Internet is an irrelevant comparison. Yes, there’s lots of stuff there, but no, I can’t find the time (or be bothered) to try to find much of it. If I do ever want to make an exhaustive search some data-mining auto-reader will be a god-send. But if people need 100 books a year to read, or whatever their number is, then the delivery mechanism best suited to that need may well be the old, cumbersome printed-book-route. Even if we are all dragooned into speed-reading course, we are never going to be able to keep up with the flood. The reason Pearson is small compared to Apple is because book publishing is a relatively small-scale business, not that Pearson has failed to find the way to attract a mass audience to the delights of advanced nuclear physics. Some things that used to be thought of as “publishing” are now thoroughly adapted to the Internet. Dictionary look up (though people do of course still look things up in a book) must attract large numbers of hits every day. Similarly those tomb-stone-like phone books (always a standby illustration of the strength of perfect binding) no longer exist — their function having been usurped by on-line look up. The somewhat sickening Internet Live Stats site doesn’t cover such mundane media. My point — obviously  — is that some things are suited to the Internet and some are not. For book publishers to sit around pondering how to get YouTube-like stats is just another displacement activity to fill a profitless day.

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