Possessing books

The current debate on Open Access often weirdly focuses on the question whether we want to give in to the poor ethics of people who want books to disappear. First, it is not true; second, most of OA partisans have a huge personal book collection and third, what is it about possessing books anyway? 

Especially when it comes to literature, possessing books is a very recent habit, one without which even publishers have been able to cope and get wealthy for centuries. Before the beginning of the 20th century, even the publishers’ strategies did by far not primarily focus on selling books. Since the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, practices of mutualized reading have been a decisive impulse to the overall growth of the book market and to getting people to read something else than the Bible. So why is it that publishers, and some readers, are so afraid of keeping pace with a medial evolution that has been present ever since there has been such a thing as a book market, (and even more so for the literary book market), namely: modes of reading evolving with time and context?

Of course, there was resistance back then as well. There were publishers rebelling against the move towards a capitalistic model for the book market in the late 18th century. Each copyright evolution brought its lot of protest. And yet here we are, as if obstacles had been overcome to reach the final state of the contemporary age. But reading history in a teleological way is only a comfortable way of seeing things. Seen from that angle, the history of the book market can too easily sound like a century-long justification of a status quo recently achieved and which it will take effort to depart from. But as much as history can be read as a curve towards a conservative state of mind, it is up to us to read it as a history of boldness, may the fearless come from the publishers’, the readers or the authors’ bank. And it is up to us to be just as fearless and to enforce what we deem best for the generations to come.

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search