Yes, “the publishing landscape is shifting,” Darnton admits. But new media do not necessarily replace existing ones, he argues. The future is digital, but it can coexist with print media, notwithstanding the grim status of newspapers. Darnton notes that the “old-fashioned, pre-modern book” is “the best preservation system ever invented.” Copyright and privacy laws, not perfect, will help books survive, Darnton predicts. I hope he is correct.
Writers and readers will applaud Darnton’s hopeful brief for books. Predictions for their demise may be overstated, to turn an old phrase. More people than ever before are literate, and wealthy enough to buy books. But the economics of publishing may change the public’s preference from the old-fashioned paper product I love to hold and read to the more versatile and economic electronic library soon to be available on Kindle-like, Google-supplied electronic books. The publishing world will need to adapt more fundamentally than it has if Darnton’s world of letters is to survive.