McLuhan strikes again

This week’s Economist magazine contains an interesting article (subscription required) on the survival of high street bookshops despite the increasing success of their online rivals.

It seems bookshops were expected to disappear once we’d all switched to Amazon:

“Everyone got the internet wrong when they assumed it would replace retail,” says James Heneage, the boss of Ottakar’s. “It’s simply a new channel.” That may be a comforting thought for other [high street] retailers as Christmas approaches.

Of course, Marshall McLuhan wouldn’t have been surprised. In 1964 he wrote:

“…it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium. It is only today that industries have become aware of the various kinds of business in which they are engaged. When IBM discovered that it was not in the business of making office equipment or business machines, but that it was in the business of processing information, then it began to navigate with clear vision. The General Electric Company makes a considerable portion of its profits from electric light bulbs and lighting systems. It has not yet discovered that, quite as much as AT&T, it is in the business of moving information.”

From Understanding media: the extensions of man (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.)