Turning the page: review of Angus Phillips on the evolution of the book

Angus Phillips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, knows a thing or two about books. His publications include The future of the book in the digital age, co-edited with Bill Cope (Chandos, 2006), and Inside book publishing 5th edn, co-authored with Giles Clark (Routledge, 2014). He is also Editor in Chief of the publishing journal, Logos. You might therefore expect Turning the page: the evolution of the book (Routledge, 2014) — his survey of the current state of books — to be well-informed.

It is.

The value of the book lies not only in the synthesis of contemporary issues concerning books — a synthesis that is concisely written and lucid — but also in the footnotes and bibliography, which provide leads to a wealth of material and commentary on book publishing and consumption.

The text is organised around what Phillips calls (rather oddly, I think) four ‘drivers’: authorship, publishing, and readership, and copyright. For the most part, Phillips achieves within this framework a coherent treatment of his subject. The main exception to this is, I think, the chapter on ‘Digital capital’ in which the meaning of that concept emerges only rather hazily.

My main criticism of the book is that Phillips is over-modest. He diligently reports what other commentators have said and marshals their views and insights into organised accounts of contemporary debates, but his own view is, in the main, left implicit. Come on, Angus, tell us what you think too!

Above, I described the book as a survey of the current state of books (plural): Phillips’ sub-title, however, is ‘The evolution of the book’ (singular). The distinction is perhaps significant: I suspect, though it’s difficult to be sure, that Phillips primarily has in mind one (admittedly very broad) type of book, namely trade books, and that a more variegated conception of book publishing might have produced a different, more comprehensive, treatment.

Be that as it may, this book has earned its place on Pub Studs reading lists: I cannot imagine why any student on such a course wouldn’t want to read this text.

 

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