A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by NPR’s Martin Kaste for a story about e-books and privacy. The topic isn’t a strong suit, but Martin wanted to ask me if there was something potentially beneficial about understanding reading behaviors. I said yes.
When the story ran a couple of weeks later, Lucy Kogler, a bookseller in Buffalo, NY objected strongly:
There are so many things wrong with his statement. Books are not product. Books are creative endeavors as individual and singular as any work of art. They cannot be tweaked as if they are idling wrong. They can’t have leaves pulled off as they rot like a cabbage or lettuce.
It’s easy to get flustered in an interview, and I wasn’t at my best on the phone with Martin Kaste. I typically don’t refer to books as “product”, not because it’s wrong, but because the word can create barriers that take time to dismantle.
Kogler’s reaction drew some colleagues into the discussion, notably Ashley Gordon, who has in the last year launched an interesting imprint, Mockingbird Publishing. Ashley gave me more credit than I was due, but her points about the need for balance in an era of change ring very true.
I thought that might have been the last word in my NPR saga, but Paul Ford recently used Kogler’s critique to talk about a broad topic: “The web is a customer-service medium“.
In his fairly lengthy post, Ford makes the argument that the web is not a publishing platform. It is built to give participants the opportunity to review content and ask, “Why wasn’t I consulted, because I would have …”
In Ford’s view, a digital medium, built on many-to-many exchanges, is about service, not simply the provision of content.
Ford’s argument is worth returning to (and I will), but there is an interim lesson: Martin Kaste asked a question, and a simple answer prompted a handful (maybe more) responses that helped readers and listeners clarify their own beliefs. Folks who doubt that reading is social might take a closer look at what hath NPR wrought.