Saturday, June 11, 2011

Getting Beyond Product-Based Thinking

The value in Sue Halpern’s latest NYRBlog post, “Reading in the Cloud,” is that she is one of the few people who understands reading at a cognitive level and appreciates that it is what good writers need to do.  It is thus understandable that she is dismayed at the extent to which the Internet has reduced books to the status of “products,” even if the bean-counters in publishing houses have been doing this for some time.  She makes the point, however, to emphasize the innovation of a Spanish startup, 24Symbols, which is trying to make a business out of streaming book content, rather than offering it for download.  She quotes one of the principals, Juan Hidalgo, as observing that “books are not a product, they are a service.”  Whether he realty believes this or has cooked it up as a new way to lure venture funding, it is a proposition worth considering.  With the occasional exception a book is not a mere physical manifestation of marks on paper.  To the extent that it mediates a corpus of communicative actions, it is not far-fetched to call it a service.  Of course, in an age that is now trying to use science to reduce service to product status, the subtlety of this distinction may not amount to very much.

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