Help or Hindrance? The History of the Book and Electronic Media
by Paul Erickson

The late D.F. McKenzie, in his Panizzi Lecture at the British Library in 1985, defined bibliography as "the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception." He went on to define texts to include "verbal, visual, oral, and numeric data, in the form of maps, prints, and music, of archives of recorded sound, of films, videos, and any computer-stored information, everything in fact from epigraphy to the latest forms of discography. There is no evading the challenge which those new forms have created."[1] In this paper, I hope to discuss the ways in which bibliography and its sibling discipline, the history of the book-the study of the physical, technological, economic, and cultural conditions of reading, authorship, and publishing-have in many respect evaded the very challenges that McKenzie attempted to point the discipline towards 14 years ago. Despite McKenzie's call for a broadening of the field of inquiry of the history of the book to constitute a "sociology of texts," I argue that the discipline, at least as it is practiced in the United States, is, for several reasons, ill-suited to address the challenges posed to the study of texts by new electronic media. The history of the book is, according to various sources, one of the up-and-coming fields of inquiry in the humanities. Within the field, as in almost all others, much discussion has taken place in recent years about the impact of new media on the status of the book, reading, and authorship. The embrace has not been entirely unilateral-the call for papers for this conference appeared in the newsletter of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing, the main international professional association in book history. Certainly, the history of the book, with its emphasis on the materiality of texts and the impact this has on their meaning, has many valuable contributions to make to our understanding of the role new electronic media will play in our society. But this paper will argue that, at least in the limited instance of the history of the book as done in America, with its tendency to focus on certain aspects of 19th century print culture and its reliance on two major models of the "circuit of print," the lessons the discipline has to offer may be more instructive for what they cannot teach us about new electronic media than what they can. Using a brief example from my own work on the dime novel, one of many "print revolutions" to have taken place in nineteenth-century America, I hope to illuminate both some of the shortcomings of the history of the book in analyzing the role of new electronic media, and some of its potential strengths.

A 1993 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the rise of book history was entitled, "In Electronic Age, Scholars are Drawn to the Study of Print." The author posited that, "To some extent, the ferment is related to the rise of electronic media, whose growing strength is casting print culture in sharp relief."[2] While it may be the case that the rise of electronic media has begun to force historians of print into a more comparative perspective, this perspective has all too rarely been employed in the other direction. Part of this is no doubt due to the difficulty, both intellectual and professional, of doing truly interdisciplinary work; save for rare exceptions like this conference, book historians do not mix terribly often with historians of other media forms. But it may also be due to the reliance of print historians on models for media culture that, while very well-suited to book history, are of limited utility in analyzing other media. The two main models for print culture employed by historians of the book in America are those of William Charvat and Robert Darnton. Charvat, in his pioneering work The Profession of Authorship in America, posited a triangular model for print culture, with the author, the book trade, and the reader making up the three corners. This model was an attempt to give all three players, not just the author, a dynamic role in the production of the meanings derived from texts.[3] Given his background as a literary scholar, however, it is not surprising that for Charvat the author remained the focus of attention. As he wrote, this triangular model can offer a "better understanding of the ways in which writers have produced and communicated."[4] Darnton's model, which is more recent and more widely known, given the widespread popularity of his works, is essentially identical to Charvat's, except it is envisioned as a circuit rather than as a triangle. As Darnton describes it, this communication circuit can be understood as beginning with authors and publishers, filtering through printers, shippers, reviewers and booksellers, to the reader, and from there back to the authors.[5] Darnton's model, like Charvat's, has the virtue of allowing intervention at every stage of the circuit, by all actors, instead of employing a linear, top-down model of cultural diffusion. But given Darnton's background as a social historian, and the difficulty of studying the responses of readers, his work and that of many other scholars in the field tends to focus on the book trade elements of the circuit - how publishers interacted with authors, with their printers, suppliers, and shippers; how books were produced, marketed, and distributed. What has only recently begun to draw equal attention, due to the entrance into the field of large numbers of scholars with backgrounds in literary criticism, is the third corner of the triangle - the reader. 

These models raise many of the right questions when trying to understand the explosion of print in nineteenth-century America. The expansion of cheap popular reading material in this period, especially beginning in the 1830s with the penny newspaper, has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly attention. Books and newspapers, however, were by no means "new media" in this period, when various technological innovations, most importantly stereotyping and the advent of the steam press, so drastically changed the face of American print culture. These innovations were critical to achieving the closest thing the period can offer to universal media saturation-the cheap newspaper-but the key element in saturation is distribution, a field of technology which, in nineteenth-century America, lagged far behind the rate of advance in printing technology. In a country characterized by a sparsely distributed rural population, the difficulty of distributing printed matter blunted to a certain extent the impact of the revolutions in printing. Additionally, in a country with no established tradition of artistic patronage, undergoing economic shifts lumped under the term "market revolution," authors in America had to make their way in a cultural marketplace that held no models for how to make a living as a professional writer. The elements that we think of today as constituting "authorship" - some system of copyright protection, a cultural system that is able to create name recognition for authors, the prestige attached to being a writer - for the most part did not exist in antebellum America. Given these conditions, Charvat's attention to the economic position of authors in the marketplace of culture and Darnton's emphasis on the modalities of publishing and distribution as businesses, and the stress both place on the impact of the materiality of texts on the meanings they create, seem to pose the right questions for gaining a fuller understanding of print culture in the period.

One example which I will discuss briefly to illustrate these points is that of the dime novel, the signature cheap fiction phenomenon of nineteenth-century America. The firm of Beadle and Adams published the first dime novel, Malaeska; the Indian Wife of the White Hunter in June of 1860, and by October were already being copied by competing firms. This story had first been published in a magazine in 1839, illustrating Russel Nye's observation that, "Beadle and Adams' contribution to publishing was one of merchandising, not content. They organized production, standardized the product, and did some shrewd guessing about the nature and extent of the market."[6] The extent of the market proved to be huge; by 1864, Beadle and Adams had a standing order from the newly-formed American News Company for 60,000 copies of each number, and their books, along with those of the competition, flooded the market. Dime novel publishers soon figured out that different types of textual presentation, such as different sizes and styles of binding and illustration could be applied to the same texts in order to reach different segments of the market, and began issuing their works in endless numbers of different "series," each with a different look and feel. These changes in format, and the accompanying shifts in distribution, helped to construct a readership for the genre and carried a complex set of cultural messages about its influence and content, messages that ironically may have hastened the genre's demise. These texts illustrate quite clearly McKenzie's emphasis on the importance of the physical reality of books in creating their meaning, at times quite independently of the words their pages bear.

The standard dime novel format at its inception was a paper-covered (usually yellow, orange, or salmon), stab-sewn book of around 100 pages, roughly four by seven inches in size. In efforts to stay ahead of postal regulations that charged much higher rates for letters and books than for newspapers or "periodical literature," dime novel publishers started a cat-and-mouse game with the postal system to package their works as some form of periodical, appearing at regular intervals, rather than as books, especially after 1852, when the postal rate for periodicals (a different category) was made the same as that for newspapers.[7] The end result was to make "book material," as Richard Kielbowicz has described it, look more like newspapers, which tended to be purchased at newsstands instead of delivered to the home. Thus the crucial consumption act of acquiring dime novel texts was removed from under the watchful eye of parents, and situated instead in the liminal, dangerous world of the street, a world that in Gilded Age America was associated with nothing so much as hordes of unruly, potentially criminal boys. This shift is also made apparent by the rise of "illuminated covers," bearing colored illustrations, which began to appear in the mid-1870s, an innovation which only makes sense if the product with the colored cover can be seen at the point of purchase and compared to other products without colored covers, i.e., at a newsstand or bookstore. Such changes in format and distribution were not viewed as morally neutral by many cultural critics. Increasing concerns about city streets made newsstands suspect, and the popularity of publications such as the Police Gazette heightened the attention paid by at least some concerned citizens to the physical appearance of reading materials, just as the signature bindings of "quality" fiction houses such as Ticknor and Fields became automatic signifiers of acceptability. As the tireless reformer Anthony Comstock noted, "We assimilate what we read. The pages of printed matter become our companions" (ix). This vision of the connection between books as material objects and their moral impact fed logically into Comstock's attacks in the 1880s on dime novels.  
An examination of the covers of several dime novel titles illustrates the extent to which dime novel publishers recycled the same texts, often using the same stereotype plates, while trying to conceal the fact of their recycling by issuing them in different formats in different series. I will briefly mention only two examples of what is a much larger and more general phenomenon. Beadle published Ned Buntline's dime novel Stella Delorme five times between 1869 and 1900, and their competitor, George Munro, published Buntline's Old Nick of the Swamp at least twice, although probably more often. Over the years, the stories were not changed at all - they did not become more sensational, or more violent, or less puritanical over the years, as the standard narrative of the dime novel genre would have it. What did change was the format in which they were published, how much they cost, and where they were purchased. The early incarnations of both stories were in the traditional, pocket-sized format. Over time, however, with their appearances in different series (most notably Stella Delorme's appearances in Beadle's Half-Dime Library) the format of the texts was altered in ways that make it clear that they were being distributed and purchased in different ways; the Half-Dime Library numbers were in 8-page tabloid format, roughly the same size as a modern magazine, clearly purchased at a newsstand. Tellingly, the price had also gone down to a nickel, placing the text within the financial reach of even more readers. The final edition of Old Nick of the Swamp, published in 1908 shortly before the demise of the M.J. Ivers firm, has a cover with garish colors and a lurid image of an Indian being shot clearly meant to attract the eye at the point of purchase, and ads that clearly construct a readership for the novel as young and male.

Without going into excessive detail, it is clear from the material appearance of these texts, along with a reading of the ads that various editions contain, that the readership constructed by the various incarnations of these stories changed over time. This fact is borne out by the reminiscences of dime novel readers collected in Edmund Lester Pearson's history of the genre Dime Novels; or Following an Old Trail in Popular Literature, published in 1929, only 17 years after the last dime novel series stopped publication. It is also borne out by the things cultural critics had to say about the genre and their readership. In 1864, William Everett was able to describe the early dime novels, which were still appearing in the standard format, as "unexceptionable morally. ... They do not even obscurely pander to vice or excite the passions."[8] The change in perception, based on changes in format and distribution, was evident in the next decade, however. W.H. Bishop, writing in the Atlantic in 1879, expressed the predominant view of dime novels at the time, saying that dime novels were "written almost exclusively for the use of the lower classes of society." He described the traffic at an urban newsstand on publication day, saying that "a middle-aged woman... a shop girl... [and] a servant" stopped by to buy dime novels, "but with them, before them, and after them come boys. ... The most ardent class of patron ... are boys."[9]

It is no coincidence that the 1870s, when the bulk of the readership of dime novels was considered to consist of boys, and when advertising for dime novels became more directly focused on attracting boys as consumers, was when dime novels began to be seen as dangerous influences on young people. As soon as they came to be seen as age-specific reading material, instead of shared family pleasures, these books could be used to explain the perennially awful behavior of children. Brander Matthews wrote in 1883 that, "The dreadful damage wrought to-day in every city, town, and village ... by the horrible and hideous stuff set before the boys and girls of America by the villainous sheets which pander greedily and viciously to the natural taste of young readers for excitement, the irreparable wrong done by these vile publications, is hidden from no one."[10] Yet, forty years later, it would be hidden from Mr. Matthews himself, as he reminisced, "The saffron-backed Dime Novels of the late Mr. Beadle, ill-famed among the ignorant who are unaware of their ultra-Puritan purity ... began to appear in the early years of the Civil War; and when I was a boy in a dismal boarding school at Sing Sing, ... I reveled in their thrilling and innocuous record of innocent and imminent danger."[11] These widely varying responses over time to what were, in many cases, the same texts, but very different books, underlines the importance of issues of format and distribution in the meanings made from texts, crucial links in the communications circuits outlined by both Darnton and Charvat. Equally fruitful information could be gleaned from the study of the dime novel about the rise of authorship as a viable profession in America, filling in another link in the chain, but that is another story. The point remains that the format, distribution, and price of dime novels helped to construct (and, I would argue, engender) an audience, while at the same time offering a narrative of generic degeneration to non-readers.   

Fine. But as my dissertation adviser would ask me at this point, "So what?" What does this have to tell us about electronic media? I would argue that comparing the evolution of popular print media such as the dime novel with the mechanisms of electronic media can offer insights into both the ways that book history has failed to address this cultural shift in meaningful ways, and potentially fruitful avenues for future work. One critical difference between print media and electronic media, which most models of book history are structurally ill-prepared to address, is that, whereas print culture was for most of its history a known medium in search of a distribution system, modern electronic media, especially those involving the Web, tend to be distribution systems in search of content, of a commodity to distribute (television and radio were, at their inception, similar examples, as the stories of early television owners watching test patterns indicate). This is not to say that there is any shortage of content on the Web, but that organizing it in such a way that it can be made comprehensible to consumers/readers is a problem. Thus Robert Darnton, current president of the American Historical Association, has recently announced a new initiative to publish prize-winning dissertations electronically through the Gutenberg-E project with Columbia University Press. It would be the easiest thing in the world to simply post the full text of one's dissertation on the Web, but obtaining the imprimatur of a major scholarly organization and a prestigious university press is a way of "branding" the content in a comprehensible way, since all web sites look pretty much the same and there are fewer extratextual signifiers such as format, binding, or paper stock to provide clues to readers as to the text's reliability. A distribution network like the Web, essentially going wherever there are telephone lines, is a wonderful thing, but as Sumner Redstone said when Viacom bought Paramount in 1994, "Software is king, was king and always will be king." In other words, content matters, and part of successful content is its "legibility," which is aided by linking electronic texts with the names of prestigious organizations from the academic and print worlds. Such attempts are crucial for the future of scholarly publishing, but they also represent a certain kind of "editorial fantasy," a desire to control content and erect boundaries between good and bad in a medium that is most notable for its boundarylessness, its linked, intertextual nature - it is, after all, called the "Web."[12] As Darnton has written elsewhere, "Instead of turning our backs on cyberspace, we need to take control of it - to set standards, develop quality controls and direct traffic. Our students will learn to navigate the Internet successfully if we set up warning signals and teach them to obey."[13] Such desires for clarity and control are perhaps grounded, not in the world of texts, which is unruly and infinite, but in the regimented world of academic and elite trade publishing, which is both the main focus of book history and the world in which most academics live. Book historians need to come up with new models of textual circulation and consumption in which distribution and the market are understood very differently than in the traditional print model, since the whole system of compensation for text produced, copyright and textual ownership, and authorial control operates very differently in electronic media. Very often with electronic texts, there is no "market," no "publisher," since many writers of electronic texts are not paid for their work and publish it on the Web themselves. Thus, the communications circuit is often a direct link between the writer (who is also the publisher and bookseller) and the reader. The medium is itself the distribution system, so the many individuals who are allowed agency in the models provided by Charvat and Darnton simply do not appear in the circuit. The ways in which electronic texts are "distributed" on the Web, if distribution can be understood to be the mechanism by which reader and text are brought together, is often through the random, impersonal agency of the search engine. Certainly such a drastic shift in the way in which readers meet texts must have some implications for our understanding of electronic texts, given the importance of distribution in the Charvat triangle and the Darnton circuit. These models can be said to be "flexible" enough to still work for many electronic texts, and certainly this is true for media such as film and television. But if such flexibility is bought at the price of disregarding the very stages of the models that makes them so powerful for understanding the world of print, then perhaps the time for new models more specifically tailored to current conditions has come.

Perhaps a more fundamental failure on the part of book historians is the tendency to view all texts, especially electronic texts, in the terms of the book.[14] The nomenclature of the Web has not helped in this regard - we speak of Web "pages," which we can "bookmark," Sony has plans to introduce an "electronic book," etc. This tendency to view electronic media not on their own terms, but as "bad books," is especially pronounced in the alarmists who are forever wringing their hands about the "death of books," goaded on by technological visionaries who gleefully predict print's demise such as Barry Richman, who wrote in PC Magazine in 1984, "Surprising, isn't it, how hard it is to kill off a nice little technology like print."[15] Sven Birkerts, the best-known spokesman for the "sky is falling" view of electronic media, is exemplary for his assumption that the intense, emotionally involved way that we read contemporary fiction is the normative model for reading texts, by which standards, of course, electronic media fail miserably. He writes, in The Gutenberg Elegies: "I will confine myself to the literary novel because that, for me, represents reading in its purest form."[16] Almost inevitably, he later compares reading text on the Web to reading The Catcher in the Rye, the archetypal emotionally-charged reading experience for Americans of a certain age that confirms in flattering ways the reader's suspicions of his own ineffable individuality and uniqueness. I am somewhat confident that nobody in the room today has ever read a novel in its entirety off of a computer screen (literary historians such as myself, who are often forced to read whole novels off of microfilm readers, can attest that the experience is not the same). But I am even more confident that everybody here has looked up something - plane fares, addresses of old friends, parts numbers for food processor blades, books in libraries - on a computer. Many writers have noted that the world of print does not consist solely of literary novels, and that vast numbers of texts exist, such as encyclopedias, directories, manuals, that will be better served by being converted to electronic formats, but the point bears repeating. As Umberto Eco has written, "There are too many books. ... If the computer network succeeds in reducing the quantity of published books, this would be a paramount cultural improvement."[17] Writing elegies about the "death of the heavy reference book" is not very sexy, and not likely to get one Guggenheim Fellowships. Such books are likely to disappear, however slowly, although it is likely that Nicholson Baker will find someone to sue over it. But other forms of print reading will persist, and it is likely that new ones will emerge. The Buggles told us, in 1981, on MTV's first broadcast, that "Video Killed the Radio Star," but since then Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, Howard Stern, and Dr. Laura, to name a few, have, at least temporarily, disproven their prediction by changing our definition of what "radio star" means. Book history, not just in the instance of electronic media but in general, needs to broaden its definition of what a "text" is that makes it deserving of study, and what "reading" is, if it is to have useful things to say about the ways in which electronic texts are used.

If book historians tend to view electronic media too much in the terms of the book, at least from the perspective of reading, in another instance, that of the materiality of the reading experience, it takes too much for granted. As Geoffrey Nunberg has written, the challenge facing those studying new electronic media is "to find modes of being that allow them to be true to their natures while preserving their cultural connectedness."[18] Book historians, in failing to reach out to scholars of other media, have largely failed in the mission of finding "modes of being" for electronic media that would aid in understanding their use and impact. If I could have fit the screens of the three computers I currently own onto a photocopier, most book historians would say that they are just screens, whereas the differences between the dime novels I discussed earlier would be readily apparent. But why neglect the materiality and variability of the encounter with electronic texts? All three of my screens are Mac screens, which in itself delivers a whole complex set of signals about their use and the conditions under which texts are likely to be consumed. Much has been made of the commodity fetishism of the opposing sides in the books vs. computers debate - the dean of MIT's school of architecture wrote in 1995 that books will only matter to those "addicted to the look and feel of tree flakes encased in dead cow," while bibliophiles continually rail against the impassivity of the screen, the coldness of the computer, the clumsiness of the mouse.[19] Book history is perhaps most notable for the insights it has gained by, in I.A. Richards' terms, thinking of a book as "a machine to think with," yet the tendency to either think of computers as just machines or as invisible carriers of text plagues the discipline. More attention needs to be paid to the material encounter with electronic texts - what are the differences between reading a text at a public terminal in a library, standing up, as opposed to sitting down at home? What happens, for readers, in the interaction between words and images on a Web page? What does it do to the textual encounter if, like me, you always have to sit near a wall, close to an outlet, because your laptop battery is dead, instead of anywhere you like, as one can with a book? Alberto Manguel has written of the materiality of his computer, aligning it more with the Greek tradition that required textual monuments in stone than with the book-centered Hebrew tradition, stressing how the physicality and locatedness of his computer influences his readings of texts from its screen.[20] Further attention needs to be paid to such issues, but book historians cannot do it alone.

There is no question that consuming electronic media texts is a very different experience from reading a book; on this technophiles and bibliophiles agree. There may be some question as to whether or not many of such media experiences should be called "reading" in the traditional sense, or if some new category is required. As Manguel notes, "The CD-ROM (and whatever else will take its place in the imminent future) is like Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, a sort of mini-opera in which all the senses must come into play in order to re-create a text."[21] This comparison is apt, but also daunting, because we have no theory and no history of how the consumption of Gesamtkunstwerke works. But perhaps "reading" is no longer the most useful phylum in which to place such textual encounters. Book historians must work with historians of other media to come up with such a synthesis: with scholars of film and television, to gain a clearer sense of what happens in the experience of receiving texts from a screen instead of a page; with students of radio and the phonograph, to gain insights into the impact of the presence of a strange new machine, a material presence that dispenses texts, in the home; with theorists of channel surfing, which bears relevance to the jumping from text to text made possible by hyperlinks; with cognitive theorists, to better understand the interaction between word and image so characteristic of electronic media, where words often become images, and vice versa; and with scholars of everyday life, such as Michel de Certeau and David Henkin, whose work on the textualizing of the urban experience in antebellum America bears directly on the almost omnipresent injection of new forms of textuality into the texture of life in the home and workplace represented by electronic media. Perhaps such collaborations will lead us to Walter Ong's conclusion, that we are becoming simultaneously more textual and more oral: "The electronic transformation of verbal expression has both deepened the commitment of the word to space initiated by writing and intensified by print and has brought consciousness to a new age of secondary orality."[22]

To conclude, then, will the history of the book be a help or a hindrance in understanding the impact of new electronic media? I have only very briefly sketched out some ways in which the discipline has perhaps hindered an understanding of how electronic media really work, as well as some potential contributions book historians can make to the debate. Robert Darnton was quoted in 1993 as saying that the history of the book "has the potential to take its place beside the history of art and the history of science."[23] But many book historians, in their insistence on viewing electronic media, especially the Web, as a large book, rather than something else entirely (a library? a conversation? a gigantic movie with lots of subtitles? a poorly-organized warehouse?) run the risk instead of placing the history of the book alongside the history of sculpture or the history of chemistry - that is, an interesting but marginal field subsumed under a much larger discipline, the history of media. The failure of book historians to live up to D.F. McKenzie's clarion call for a comprehensive "sociology of texts" is understandable; the field of book history itself is new, and electronic media change so fast that it is impossible to keep up. Perhaps the most important contribution book historians can make, however, is to reinforce an awareness of the mutability, contingency, and the relative historical youth of printed forms, so that the rise of electronic media can be seen perhaps less as a frightening epochal shift and more as what it is - just another change, albeit a big one, in how we communicate.. Self-appointed defenders of the book, such as Birkerts, who wish to naturalize the culture of print with such phrases as "the stable hierarchies of the printed page," "age-old ways of being," and the incredible assertion that our "neural systems" have "evolved through millennia" to accommodate print both do the book a grave disservice and hinder our understanding of how the book can shape our understanding of, instead of fear of, electronic media.[24] As McKenzie noted, "... print is only a phase in the history of textual transmission, and ... we may be at risk of overstating its importance. ... Even in our own society, oral text and visual image have not only enjoyed a continuity (albeit, enhanced by print), but they have now resumed their status as among the principal modes of discourse with an even greater power of projection."[25] There is no medium of commuication about whose production and consumption we know more than books; book historians are poised to make tremendous contributions to our understanding of new electronic media. But book historians must also remain aware of the fact that a very small percentage of all the textual encounters, the interactions of people and printed words, that happen in the world every day involve books. The history of the book and the history of reading and writing are thus very different things, and an awareness of the fact that reading books is not the same as reading other texts is crucial to the approach to new textual forms. McKenzie admonished us to remember how marginal, in historical terms, the book is to the history of textual communication, and how mutable the physical form of the text can be. A continued attention to the materiality, and therefore the contingency, of the interaction with print, combined with new attention to the materiality of the experience of electronic text is one direction in which book historians can both continue to expand our knowledge of print culture and contribute to our understanding of electronic culture.


[1] McKenzie, D.F., Bibliography and the sociology of texts, London: The British Library, 1986, p. 4. return

[2] Winkler, Karen, "In Electronic Age, Scholars are Drawn to the Study of Print," Chronicle of Higher Education, July 14, 1993. return

[3] Charvat, William, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 284. return

[4] Ibid., p. 285, emphasis added. return

[5] Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, pp. 181-89. return

[6] Nye, Russel, The Unembarassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America, New York: Dial Press, 1970, p. 201. return

[7] For more specific discussion of these issues, see John, Richard, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995, and Kielbowicz, Richard, News in the Mail: The Press, Post Office, and Public Information, 1700-1860s, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1989. return

[8] Quoted in Nye, p. 203. return

[9] Quoted in Michael Denning, Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working Class Culture in America, New York: Verso, 1987, p. 29-30. return

[10] Quoted in Denning, p. 9. return

[11] Ibid., p. 9. return

[12] It is arguable that the current crisis in scholarly publishing, frequently attributed to a diminished audience for academic books, which in turn forces presses to raise prices, is not a demand problem at all, but rather one of supply. Given the vast numbers of embattled adjunct professors, temporary instructors, not to mention tenure-track junior faculty, all of whom need to find publishers for their books in order to keep their jobs, there is no way that the allegedly larger, more attentive audience for academic books that previously existed could provide sufficient demand to justify university presses in publishing all the books that academics need to get published. return

[13] Darnton, Robert, "No Computer Can Hold the Past," New York Times, June 12, 1999. return

[14] Certain book historians have made notable efforts in correcting this and other problems in the field that I address here, and I do not wish to ignore the significance of their work - John O'Donnell, Carla Hesse, Geoffrey Nunberg, John Feather would head what I am sure should be a much longer list. return

[15] Richman, Barry, "The death of print?" PC Magazine, May 1, 1984. return

[16] Birkerts, Sven, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994, p. 79. return

[17] Nunberg, Geoffrey, ed., The Future of the Book Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, p. 301. return

[18] Ibid., p. 16. return

[19] Quoted in Nunberg, p. 65. return

[20] Manguel, Alberto, "How those plastic stones speak," Times Literary Supplement, July 4, 1997. return

[21] Manguel, Alberto, "How those plastic stones speak," Times Literary Supplement, July 4, 1997. return

[22] Ong, Walter, Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, New York: Routledge, 1982. return

[23] In Winkler, July 14, 1993. return

[24] Birkerts, pp. 3, 15, 139. Such critics are most often embattled professional writers more fearful of losing the prerogatives of their profession in a world where the modalities of remunerative authorship on the Web is not yet clear than impassioned defenders of the print experience. As ever, Birkerts is exemplary for demonstrating the extent to which anxiety over "the death of the book" is so often misplaced anxiety over "the death of how I want to make a living": "These large-scale changes bode ill for authorship, at least of the kind I would pursue. There are, we know this, fewer and fewer readers for serious works. Publishers are increasingly reluctant to underwrite the publication of a book that will sell only a few thousand copies. But very few works of any artistic importance sell more than that" (28). return

[25] McKenzie, p. 52. return