Is Digital Culture Killing Print? Or Just Readers?

I just finished reading a stack of business books. I’m brain dead. Don’t get me wrong. The content was strong. Some very powerful minds out there are helping people solve serious business problems.

Pam Slim blew me away with her treasure trove of advice for upstarts.

Bill Wasik waxes eloquently about digital culture, as does Clay Shirky.

-Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell captures the key business advantages of tapping into social technologies with clarity and force.

-Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check is a desk reference for entrepreneurs that is beyond handy. It’s a life raft.

So what’s my beef? Cracking open even the most compelling business book is like stepping into a coffin. Formatted with all the visual appeal of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, they are densely packed and relentlessly boring to the eye. How many people read like that any more? My grandmother, maybe.

More and more I’m using my Kindle. Devices like it will trigger new reading habits. Kindle or not, if Tom Peters could wrest his ideas from the tyranny of blandness by partnering with the picture-book publisher Dorling Kindersley, why haven’t others followed suit? Because most publishers haven’t caught up with the culture, that’s why.

I’d argue that the Web isn’t just changing the business model of publishing, as Chris Anderson discusses in Free, it’s changing the user experience. Expectations of print are changing. A digital reading aesthetic is born. Business publishing just missed the christening.

Having marched through seven business books, I applied eye drops and emailed my friend the literature professor. I shared my rant about publishing. What do you think? I asked. His new book on 18th century satirists will be out soon. He wants to offer a free powdered wig with every book purchase to drive sales. His publisher probably loves the idea. What do you think? He asked.