Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Monday, December 03, 2012

It’s Not Your Father’s Library

The e-book is the future of publishing. Not a popular opinion among those in the publishing industry. It is said and we wish to believe that because print publishing prevailed and persisted for hundreds of years, it is firmly entrenched and unlikely to go under anytime soon. We cling to the old ways seemingly through a mix of nostalgia and a sense of self-preservation. We do not accept the natural and unavoidable evolution of technology as an irresistible force that will change how literature and information are delivered to consumers.

Print publishing prevailed for centuries not because that's the best way to publish books but because that's what was the best way, what was available. It is correlary to print journalism. For centuries we had newspapers. Then we got cable TV and the Internet, and newspapers that are not closing their doors are clutching the last vestiges of tradition.

We see other corresponding signs of technologys effect on how people communicate. Telephone booths are a vanishing breed, bookstores close, and the postal service downsizes.

Consider how publishing has evolved over the millenia.

The media: Cave paintings, stone tablets, animal skin scrolls, papyrus, paper, CRTs, LEDs.

Production: Quills, Gutenberg, manual typesetting, linotype, computer typesetting.

Throughout all this, a constant for the past few centuries has been the print mediumbound books printed on paper. Now that's changing too.

Consider the recent emergence of small publishers that publish only or mainly e-books. Some of them, usually those who bring publishing experience from the old days, are succeeding with the new business model.

Consider that big city publishers who long disparaged of the notion of e-books are adding them to their product lines, not only their new books, but their backlists as well.

Consider that digital POD (print-on-demand) production is pushing aside traditional high-volume offset prints and the warehousing of book inventories. Wishful thinkers deny this, but the snowball is rolling.

Young people will adapt, will adjust their habits and behavior to fit emerging technologies, and will not be conditioned by any sense of tradition. Coming generations will have no such nostalgic feelings about holding in their hands, paging through, and reading physical books. They certainly won't hold out for bookbags stuffed with heavy, expensive textbooks.

They already read books on their smart phones.

And thats just the youngsters. Many elderly people regard the e-reader as a godsend for how they readily compensate for vision disabilities.

Young people and senior citizens join to embrace e-book technology. It would seem that the holdouts are mostly middle-aged.

Everything must change. Printed books will go almost extinct, certainly within the next two decades and probably sooner. Books will become ancient curiosities, artifacts displayed in museums, privately owned only by collectors and hoarders. Like phonograph records today and compact disks soon, the printed book will become a relic of the past.

The only obstacle to such a profound paradigm shift would be a catastrophic interruption of the earth's power grid, at which time printing presses will stop working too. Along with everything else.

Heres my prediction about how books will be distributed and read in the not-so-distant future.

The driving technology will be what is called cloud computing. For those who came in late, cloud computing is the use by individuals of remote servers maintained by others in which users store data and software and with the Internet being the conduit for storage and retrieval.

An e-reader will store its own identification, sufficient data to identify and authorize its owner, and a page or two of whatever content the owner is currently reading. (Memory size of an e-reader will no longer be a factor.) The user's account will reside in a cloud and will comprise account data and a list of books that the account is licensed to read. It could be as simple as a PayPal account and a list of ISBNs. The digital books themselves will reside in a shared database in a global cloud. When the user chooses a different page, the cloud delivers it to the device. A catalog can be built on demand in realtime from the global cloud.

The problems? Bandwidth, piracy, and industry/consumer resistance.

Bandwidth: To serve the masses in the manner described here, cloud technology must address speed and storage issues raised when millions of people would maintain their digital resources in cloud servers. The technology exists. It just needs a lot more hardware thrown at it.

Piracy: Before e-books can become the principle book delivery mechanism, we have to address the management and protection of intellectual property. Given digital media, how do proprietors of content protect it from piracy and bootlegging?

A typical user will not be technically savvy enough to pirate copies of content being sent a page at a time to a device operating with software designed and installed by the device's maker and managed by the content provider. Hackers will rummage about in the devices' code and crack it, but, as with computer viruses today, content and device implementations will be able to rapidly adjust to and thwart the latest hacks.

Consumer resistance: Those who cherish and wish to retain the present model of e-book delivery will throw up the usual wall of resistance and regard anything new with mostly unfounded suspicion. This problem will disappear when a new generation of readers, people who do not cling to the old ways, take over and dominate the marketplace.
 

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