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April 29th, 2009 at 10:44 am

The Quarterly Conversation Reviews The Late Age of Print & The Late Age of Print on “Amazonfail”

The Late Age of PrintTwo worthwhile items relating to Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control:

A few weeks ago Scott Esposito, published an interview with Ted Striphas and has now followed that up with a review on Quarterly Conversation. As we’ve come to expect from The Quarterly Conversation, the review offers a thoughtful assessment of Striphas’s understanding of the history of the distribution and publication of books and what it means in today’s seemingly ever-changing publishing landscape.

Amid the praise Esposito also wonders if Striphas might have missed an opportunity to join his analysis of the publishing infrastructure (bookstores, digitial editions, copyright, ISBNs, etc.) with an examination of the values underlying the late age of print. However, he concludes the review, writing, “Those who hope to understand the industry at its crossroads should read The Late Age of Print, and hope that more books like it are written.”

Striphas himself continues to examine the publishing industry and the late age of print on his blog. Waiting for the dust to settle, Ted Striphas weighs in on the “Amazonfail” controversy in his posting Amazonfail and the Algorithmic Culture.

To recap the controversy: it was discovered that Amazon had removed hundreds of Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, and transgender titles were being removed from searches since they were deemed “adult.” The twitterverse and blogosphere were quick to report on this and Amazon quickly claimed that a French employee incorrectly filed more than 50,000 items which were then consequently flagged as “adult.”

In his post Striphas wonders what the controversy has to tell us about the late age of print. He argues that it points to the growing importance of “algorithmic culture,” in which the sorting, ordering, classifying, and judging of people, things, and books is moving from man to machine. Striphas writes:

The folks over at #amazonfail, and indeed all those who chimed in on the book ranking and listing controversy, have begun to show us that algorithmic culture has its weaknesses, too, and that there may be benefits to a more “traditional” approach to cultural valuation and classification. If nothing else, the latter has an immediate doer behind the deed, who can be questioned about her or his choices. Algorithmic culture may provide for more “democratic” forms of participation, particularly in the area of tagging and reviewing. On the flip side, accountability exists at a much further remove. If handled improperly, algorithmic culture can open large swaths of material to the threat of “global replace,” in which a one becomes a zero and all hell subsequently breaks lose.

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