Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Download The Late Age of Print

One of the defining attributes of the late age of print is the erosion of old publishing certainties. Among them is the notion that the free circulation of book content leads inevitably to lost sales. Another is the belief that strong, proprietary systems are the best way for publishers and authors to secure value in their intellectual properties. Maybe it's too soon to let go of these notions completely. It's fast becoming clear, however, that they cannot be taken for granted any longer.

There are two ways of responding to the erosion of old certainties like these. One way is to dig in your heels, hoping to keep familiar ground from shifting under your feet. The other is to allow the erosion to expose opportunities that may have been buried underfoot all along. With the latter you risk coming up empty, but with the former you risk something worse -- inertia.

I'm pleased to report that my publisher, Columbia University Press, isn't one of those digging in its heels. It's taken the bold step of releasing The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control not only as a copyrighted, bound physical volume, but also as a Creative Commons-licensed electronic book. You can download the e-edition by clicking here. The file is a "zipped" .pdf of the complete contents of Late Age, minus one image, for which I was (ironically) unable to secure electronic publishing rights.

I thank Columbia University Press for releasing my book electronically under a Creative Commons license. In doing so, it's embraced the extraordinary spirit of openness that is beginning to flourish in the late age of print. Mine is the first book the Press has decided to release in this way. Here's hoping that many more will follow.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


1944 was the year in which the world we inhabit today was born.1

I arrived at this hypothesis in the course of the conversations I've had with the bright group of graduate students enrolled in the seminar I'm teaching this term, "The Social Matrix of Mass Culture." The class is about many things, but lately its focus has been the "countercultural" response to mass culture in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. (For more on this theme, check out this post from a few months back.)

So why 1944? It was the year in which two path-breaking books were published--one from the left, the other (ostensibly) from the right. The first was Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. The second was Friedrick von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Though operating at different ends of the ideological spectrum, and though arriving at rather different conclusions, both share a surprising amount of common ground. Of particular concern for this odd group of authors are the social, economic, and political problems stemming from centralized mass production. It's no surprise that the horrors of Nazi Germany loom large in both works.

What's fascinating about Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Road to Serfdom is that they are also touchstone works in the "revolt" against mass culture. Put differently, in rejecting centralized mass production, Horkheimer/Adorno and Hayek collectively helped set the stage for the highly individuated mass culture that has emerged today--a culture supposedly populated no longer by estranged "cultural dopes" but by "active" and "empowered" consuming subjects.

Clearly there's much more to say about the consonance of Dialectic and Road. More to come anon as I continue gathering my thoughts.

1 Clearly it's hyperbole to say "the world"; really I mean, the United States.