Jerry Brotton

‘The Play’s the Thing’

Discussion of the impact of digital technology on books has been largely confined to hysterical pronouncements about the death of the printed book, but we might be looking in the wrong direction. It’s now clear that e-books and Kindles will not see off physical books any time soon. Last year 360 million printed books were sold in the UK, an increase of 2 per cent on the previous year. By contrast, e-book sales declined by 4 per cent. If the virtual book revolution is looking like the dog that failed to bark, there is digital bite elsewhere. Over the last two decades, the tools of digital data analysis have been grasped enthusiastically by literary scholars. The result has been a quiet revolution in book history that has not only changed the way we interpret texts but also altered our understanding of how books have been made, published and read, and of the ways in which the role of the author has evolved over time.

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