The precise thing that makes idea-driven books so valuable to readers — their immersive qualities, the intimate, one-on-one relationship they facilitate between authors and readers — also make them pretty lousy as actual sharers of ideas. Books don’t go viral. And that’s largely because the thing that makes books lucrative to authors and publishers — their ability to restrain ideas, to wall them off from the non-book-buying world — is antithetical to virality. How can books be expected to share ideas when the very point of their existence is containment?
But why does a book need to go viral? And cannot word-of-mouth cause a book to go something like viral? And why object to that "intimate one-on-one relationship"? Many authors don't writer for readers, but for, in Kierkegaard's words, "that individual whom with joy and gratitude I call my reader."
In much of the debate over the future of the book, alternatives are frequently discussed as though mutually exclusive. It is the old human tendency to see things in terms of either/or rather than both/and or even all-of-the-above. What principally characterizes the changes being brought about in communications technology is the vast widening of choices in terms of products and services, which seems matched, however - in some cases, at least - with fewer sources of the products, if not the services.
Some think Google and Amazon are looking to become the Castor and Pollux of publishing. This may well be as far as distribution and access are concerned, but will hardly be the case as to what is being distributed and accessed. Google and Amazon are premised on reaching as many users as possible. It is not in their commercial interest to pass much judgment on what is provided.
The internet is the agora made both global and individual. You don't even have to leave your home to participate, and you retain a good deal more of your independence than you might in a crowded, entirely public space. This marks an exponential change, not merely a change of scale. It is naturally threatening to those preoccupied with control. I suspect things will go best the less interference there is in the process.
Think of it as you might of evolution.