Miha Kovac is the currently publisher at Mladinska knjiga and full professor at the Department of Library and Information Science and Book Studies at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Miha Kovac @ The Unbound Book Conference photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg
In Session I of the Unbound Book Conference entitled "What is a Book?", Kovac affirms that this is not a new question. The book has always been described as an object, however few have asked about the function of the book, what is the book doing?
Kovac describes the book as a technology for organizing, storing and disseminating complex, textual/visual information. He distinguishes between the P-book (printed) and the E-book (electronic). In the case of the P-book, the content and platform are intrinsically connected. The technology and economy of printing and publishing determine filtering processes.
The socio-cultural features of the P-book are as follows:
- Book professions were created as result of the horizontal publishing business model.
- Individual reading practices became common.
- Fixity of text became one of the pillars of scientific communication.
Kovac stresses the importance of the P-book as an object of symbolic representation. P-books are part of our identity, we keep important religious texts, revolutionary novels, books that serve as national symbols, and books that encompass personal memorabilia. P-books offer us a more tangible artifact with which to relate and attach sentiment to.
Conversely, E-books separate the content from the given platform. Their capacity is far bigger than that of P-books. The sociocultural implications of E-books include the shift from the horizontal to the vertical business model. With this type of hierarchy, most of the book professions have changed. In addition, the former linear, private reading practices which were brought about by P-books are being substituted by controlled E-reading and multitasking. Kovac explains how the publishers main role will be to effectively market their books and fight for the attention and visibility of a given book. The symbolic representation of the E-book is still being invented and configured. This is slightly more challenging given the ephemeral nature of E-books.
When asked which factors are worth preserving in the E-book, Kovac mentions the fixity of texts, horizontal models in the book industry professions and linear models of reading.
Some may dismiss the notion that E-books are less capable of carrying symbolic representation or a sense of attachment. However, this argument seems easily refutable. Surely, some may feel an emotional attachment to the cell phone that they held beside their ear for years, but ultimately, all digital technologies become obsolete. The text inside printed books can eventually fade and the cover may weather, but as Kovac mentions, one of the key characteristics of the P-book is its inseparability of form and content while the E-book does not manifest the same interchangeable quality. The P-book is a whole unit, the E-book is merely a vessel which can contain and transport data. P-books have an everlasting emotional and intellectual symbolism. The challenge will be to recreate this symbolic charge in E-books and other digital technologies to foster a similar kind of bond between the user and the device.
For more information, please visit http://mihakovac.cgpublisher.com/
PDF of Miha Kovac's presentation available here: What is a book.