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Abstract

Taken at face value, the persistence of print media complicates theories of technological disruption, which Clayton Christensen has argued describe the process by which businesses that rely on old, “sustaining” technologies come under threat and are often displaced by the new. In this paper I offer a rejoinder to such disruption theories using recent developments in book publishing as an example. My purpose is twofold. First, I want to briefly discuss how the uptake of e-books alongside the persistence of print problematises the disruption thesis so as to contribute to the development of more complex models of media history that connects technological innovation more closely to the social. Disruption theses, here, are understood as positing a certain type of ideologically weighted media history in light of Geert Lovink’s insight that digital media tends to be read “into history, not the other way round” (2003). Second, I want to discuss how discussions of technological disruption nevertheless remain a persistent trope in digital technology discourse as part of what Barbrook and Cameron (1996) have called “the Californian ideology”, which brings together the interrelated possibilities of libertarian free markets and the supposed democratising, emancipatory possibilities of digital media. I argue that disruption narratives mask and to some degree stand in for discussion of a far more profound present moment of social and political disruption brought about in part by data capitalism, and to reflect on the role of digital networked media, including print and e-books, in that disruption.