The world did not end … neither will the book


IF YOU are still able to read this, it means the end of the world did not take place on Dec. 21 as direly predicted—and perhaps anticipated with much dread? And it is a good time as any, having surpassed that obstacle, to look ahead but only after taking stock of how far we have gone in digital publishing.

It was from Dr. Resil Mojares, historian and critic, regarded as one of the leading intellectuals today, that I first heard of the fascinating book by Umberto Eco, “This is Not the End of the Book,” published in 2011. It documents a series of conversations between two bibliophiles described as deeply in love with dusty volumes and literary history. They are Umberto Eco, novelist and Jean-Claude Carriere, screenwriter. A sobering reminder they bring up is rather than preserving the book per se as an artifact, more important is preserving the things that books contain: ideas, stories, knowledge. There is elegance to the book as there is to a piece of technology. And to Mr. Eco’s often repeated simile, “The book is like the spoon.  Once invented, it cannot be improved.” It is what the spoons hold that is important. To the two gentlemen, it is not the contraption nor the medium, but the first-rate thoughts still required to fill our new reading gizmos. That remains the most serious consideration—the content, as always.

These insights were especially relevant during the Future of the Book 3rd Digital Publishing Conference recently sponsored by the National Book Development Board, the Vibal Publishing House and the Vibal Foundation. This was the third consecutive year that such a conference was taking place and there was the temptation to ask, “Are we there yet?”

This year’s gathering had added significance with the presence of Bill McCoy, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, a nonprofit trade and standards organization responsible for the ePub open standard and delivery format for digital books and publications. It was lamentable that the discussions were limited to a select group of industry representatives ready to embark on a digitized future.

The gathering proved that the publishing industry intends to be in command of the future of the book as opposed to letting changes catch all of us off guard. The ability to adapt to the change makes a good industry. The ability to cause change is the mark of a great industry. Digital publishing has changed reading habits. It has turned its back on the cumbersome and sometimes wasteful allocation of supply. It has multiplied content production and accessibility. Without doubt, it continues to promote and increase readership.

The word “change” sounds so misleading. It sounds as if digital publishing is the first and last “change” in book evolution. In fact, the book industry, a historic human industry, has not stopped evolving. Its first major changes such as the move from manual to mechanical typeset were intended to reach a wider audience. Publishing houses were established to supply a staggering demand for books. But no matter how big the publishing house, no matter how many book copies are printed, the number of print books is finite. With digital publishing, data have the potential to be distributed infinitely and with such amazing speed. Thus, the incredible and mystifying appeal of e-books.

Who is to argue with the convenience and the immediacy of e-books? Although I love my iPad for a reader, I cling to my romance with the intoxicating smell of fresh ink on immaculately clean sheets of paper.

But even that does not hold true anymore with a piece of trivia about the perfume industry that someone passed on to me, in an attempt to enlighten me to move on with the times.

Well, perfume makers have come out with a scent called “Paper Passion” to indulge electronic book readers’ nostalgia for the smell of paper. So with that goes my favorite argument in defense of the hard copy of a book—the mere sensory romance of touching and savoring the smell and texture of paper. And before we go online to order our own novelty bottles of “Paper Passion,” take the time to open a traditional book made out of paper, caress it and remember how far we have come.

And this has only barely touched the surface of digital publishing in the country. Many points of view need to be heard and many more questions, answered. Among them, how do authors protect their rights seeing the accessibility of e-books to all and sundry?

What measures does the Philippine book industry need to take to prepare for the digital platform? If digital publishing eases the process for authors and encourages self-publishing, where lies the future for the traditional publishers?

Most important, how accessible can we make the digital format and its required hardware to the public school system with at least 38,000+ elementary schools and 7,200 high schools with a total enrollment of at least 20 million students? They, more than any sector, beg to be served first and foremost.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=43587

Tags: column , digital publishing , e-books , education , neni sta. romana , Reading

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Korea ferry captain defends actions, bodies seen in ship
  • Traffic starts to build up at toll plazas on Black Saturday
  • Flash floods hit 9 Tagum villages
  • No tsunami to hit PH after 6.9 quake jolts Solomon Islands–Phivolcs
  • Search resumes for bodies in Everest avalanche
  • Sports

  • Hamilton takes pole at Chinese Grand Prix
  • Duke’s Rodney Hood joining Jabari Parker in NBA draft
  • Phelps entered in 3 events at comeback meet
  • Boston prepares for huge wave of marathon visitors
  • Motivated LeBron James preps for postseason
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Myx TV premieres Asian American ‘docu-series’
  • A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show
  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Business

  • Fiat-Chrysler to produce iconic Jeep in China from 2015
  • US commerce secretary spells out economic facet of ‘pivot to Asia’
  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • We treasure our Sierra Madre
  • OFW from UAE tests negative for MERS-Cov–health chief
  • Multicultural flock marks Good Friday in San Francisco
  • Las Vegas ‘Pinoy Pride’ fest hails Filipino heritage
  • Marking Jesus’ journey on Good Friday
  • Marketplace