I reviewed a new documentary, Out of Print, that examines how the rise of digital reading is changing the book industry, libraries, and even our brains, for PBS MediaShift.
'Out of Print' Doc Examines the End of Print Books and What it Portends
People have used books as a reliable tool to transmit and preserve information, ideas, and stories for hundreds of years. E-books have enjoyed wide use for only about six years — counting from when Amazon introduced its Kindle in 2007. Yet e-books have rapidly upended so many facets of the traditional book world that the changes they’ve caused have inspired a documentary, “Out of Print,” by director Vivienne Roumani, which debuted April 25 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Through interviews with historians specializing in the history of books, as well as key figures in publishing, libraries, schools, bookselling, and cognitive science, and by presenting statistics culled from recent literacy surveys, “Out of Print” presents a portrait of a literary landscape in the midst of rapid change, both positive and negative. The advent of e-books has made reading more efficient and affordable for many and has increased access to and acceptance of self-publishing.
But on the other hand, “Out of Print” portrays young people who are unable or unwilling to read long sections of text, and can’t retain or synthesize the snippets of information they skim. “A book is something I’m being forced to read, so I spend my time thinking about how I’d rather be sleeping,” says one teenage boy in the film.
Another teenager describes the bewildering experience of visiting a library to conduct research. Although he may be hamming it up for his fellow interviewees, he describes it as “probably one of the hardest experiences of my life. There were so many books, each book specific to one thing. It’s not like you could find one book with everything that you needed in it. I was like, ‘this is terrible. I just want to Google it.’”
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