Kovač, Miha. Never mind the Web: here comes the book. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2008. xviii, 185 p. (Chandos Series on Publishing). ISBN 1-84334-405-X. £39.95.

If you visit Miha Kovač's Web page you will find out that he holds a diploma in comparativism, a Master's degree in management and a doctoral degree in Library science. He has worked in a number of publishing houses and at present is a Professor at the Department of Librarianship, Information Science and Book Science at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia).

A reader of the book has a good opportunity to see how these different competencies and experiences interact in creating this most interesting text. I have rarely seen a work that weaves together history and modernity into such a coherent fabric, seamlessly moving through times and changing phenomena, finding historical parallels where one would not suspect them.

Never mind the Web comprises a number of complex topics presented in a readable style; however, the text never loses the depth of insight and interpretation of a true humanitarian scholar who draws his main inspiration from book history. The goals of the book are as follows (my own simplified formulations): to investigate the reasons for the neglect of the book in contemporary media and cultural studies; to provide an outline of the European and American book industry and market; and to define a contemporary book and publishing study field.

The author realises these goals in the chapters devoted to:

  • the historical overview of early book publishing (The book: this charming old lady);
  • the modern developments in printing (with an emphasis on the differences between contents and platform of traditional and electronic books);
  • comparison of American and European book markets stressing the complexities of their characteristics;
  • social context of the book: a comprehensive exploration of reading habits, media use habits, library and education contexts in Europe and the USA;
  • the exploration of the book as a dual market and cultural phenomenon and the consequences for business models in different historical contexts;
  • and finally, a closing chapter showing dialectic and necessary relationships between electronic and paper books that ensure diversity, development and stability of the whole system.

The most attractive feature of the book is its non-linearity. The author manages to demonstrate the most complicated relationships of the context elements, publishing systems and a book in a simple, but not simplistic way. He highlights the unexpected links and tries to look at the deep dimensions of social phenomena. The statistical data is put into a rich environment of social, political and economic systems; thus, a seemingly direct correlation may be questioned on the grounds of essential differences of the contexts. On the other hand, the possibility to find basic principles for comparison is also displayed (e.g., the comparison of the competitiveness scores and numbers of readers and non-readers in different countries).

I try not to disclose the content of the book too much, as it has a highly intriguing quality and some unexpected turns of thought. I do not want any reader to lose this element of unexpected insight and discovery, as I intend to recommend reading this book not only to all who are participating in the world of books (publishers, librarians, authors, researchers, media scholars and students) but also to the general public, especially book lovers and activists. Despite the seriousness of arguments and data, the text remains highly readable and attractive. The book clearly demonstrates that the fusion of book history and exploration of contemporary information, communication and media is not only possible, but very fruitful. This is the path worth following by young researchers.

Elena Maceviciute
Vilnius University
May, 2009