Those interested in a Serial Series will surely enjoy this episode of NPR’s On the Media, which came out just days after the The First/Last Newspaper concluded—one of those “in the air” kind of moments.
The episode begins by quoting a historian from 1685 who worries there are simply too many books (an anxiety others have expressed in later years, and on which I’ve ruminated as well). It continues by looking at some emerging models for publishing that challenge the way that books are typically selected, marketed, and produced. (Last week’s announcement of the iPad prompted John Gruber to point to this useful summary of collapsing supply chains in publishing as well.)
Host Brooke Gladstone then interviews author Neil Gaiman, Institute for the Future of the Book founder Bob Stein, and professor Ann Kirschner, who each, in different ways, seem to deal with Charles Dickens and his publishing legacy. Gaiman begins by recounting Dickens’s struggles with piracy in the U.S. and his attempt to profit off the colonies by providing himself in lieu of his books. His American tours from 1842 and 1868 are evidence of the experience economy in action. Stein debates the idea of authoring as a private practice, and instead describes reading and writing as public activies that are shared by many, not owned by one. He observes, as a way of underscoring the nascency of our current media environment, that the idea of page numbers did not develop until 50 years after the printing press had been invented.
Finally, Kirschner explains an experiment she undertook to read Dickens’s Little Dorrit four ways: in paperback, on a Kindle, as an audiobook, and with her iPhone. Her preferred method is the latter (“My iPhone is always with me,” she says), but each is its own distinct experince. The paperback offers an encounter with her earlier self through notes and marginalia, while the audiobook prompts a reverie about Dickens’s own performances at his readings. She concludes—as long as there were a way to make a buck from each format—that Dickens would’ve embraced them all. I’m inclined to agree.