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Press Pushes Hard on ‘Death of the Printed Book’ Angle, All Based on Ikea Bookshelf Redesign

In case you missed it, over the weekend, the Economist set off something of a firestorm that’s continuing to reverberate this week with their story “Great Digital Expectations,” wherein they wrote that “next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous ‘BILLY’ bookcase,” followed by their reasoning for the change: “The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome — anything, that is, except books that are actually read.” As you might expect, this provided ample fodder for too many news outlets to list to jump in with headlines about the death of the printed book. Searching for “Ikea” and “bookcase” lands you pieces like the Globe and Mail‘s “Does a Revamped IKEA Shelf Spell the End for Books?” and Time‘s “Ikea Redesigns Classic Bookshelf, Foreshadows the Demise of Books.” The only rub is that nearly all of these stories relied upon the Economist‘s opinion, not necessarily the truth of the matter. NPR spoke to an Ikea representative, hearing that while the redesign news was accurate, “the change to the bookcase was made simply to allow people to store bigger books.” Curbed got even more info from the company, hearing directly from the Billy the Bookshelf himself (itself?), reiterating that “My shelves are deeper so I can house bigger books. Deeper books.” Our favorite response (and mentioned by Billy) came from Rosie Gray at the Village Voice who wrote in reply to all the frantic waving of hands and “sky is falling” reports, “It looks more like a thing that holds books and less like a thing that is setting out to kill the publishing industry, but maybe that’s just us.” And while all of this was going on, not many outlets seemed to pick up on the bigger story, that only had the company redesigned its 30-year old staple, but had also slashed its prices on the bookcase, a sign for those, like at Bloomberg, who take seriously the “Ikea Index,” in which price changes reflect international financial health.

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