Clive Thompson on the Future of Printed Books
Posted: 13 December 2011 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Clive Thompson on the Future of Printed Books

I think his vision for the future (in this limited sense) is probably correct.

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Posted: 13 December 2011 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, his conclusions seem reasonable to me.

I’ve long thought we’re entering another age of manuscripts, where fixed editions will be rare. We’ll see a return to commonplace books and the like, with each copy being unique, or nearly so with only a handful of identical copies. We’ll also see a big change in copyright, as that system is designed for mass publication.

Mass publication will not go away, but it will occupy a decreasing segment of the publication industry.

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Posted: 14 December 2011 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I disagree.  The reason the “paperless office” did not materialize is because computers were not portable.  Even in the age of laptops, computers have been fairly large, unwieldy, dependent on external power, and slow to boot up.  Portability is what has kept paper relevant.  However, as tablets and iPhone-like devices become more ubiquitous, the portability of paper documents is no longer an advantage. 

I am a software developer.  I don’t have a printer at work.  In fact, since my last printer conked out on me last spring I haven’t had a printer at home.  I haven’t printed anything in months.  I don’t really need a printer.  I get frustrated when a project manager or user hands me something printed.  I would much rather get an email attachment.  Most of our users no longer want paper reports.  They want the information distributed electronically.  In the last two years I have modified many reports to be produced in Excel format so that managers can sort and play with the data; copy and paste it into other documents.  And, increasingly, managers can read and manipulate their data on company-supplied iPads and iPhones.

These instant-publishing devices are going to be like Tivo: popular for a few years, and then disappearing almost as fast as they came on the scene, made redundant by technology.

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Posted: 14 December 2011 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, I too think he was wrong about that particular point. The “paperless office” did not materialize because people were unaccustomed to reading and manipulating documents on screen and because the technology did not make reading them truly easy. Both of these factors have changed.

But I disagree that instant publishing will vanish. Paper is really an amazing and useful technology.

The real problem with comparing the paperless office with publishing is that these are two entirely different contexts. Office paperwork is largely ephemeral. It is used briefly and then socked away in case someone ever needs to reference it, which they probably won’t. Going electronic for this use makes infinite sense. It saves printing and storage costs.

But publishing deals with works that are to be saved and consulted over time. For many, but by no means all, uses paper makes a lot of sense. It is more readily archivable over long periods, with no concerns over obsolescence of media. It can be accessed anywhere and anytime. It requires no power source. And it provides a stable edition which can be used for reference, unlike the continually changing electronic copies.

Certainly more and more works will go digital, but traditional publishing will not disappear. Just as television changed radio, so publishing will change. But it won’t go away.

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