Monday, May 12, 2008

Electronic Publishing

One view of the future of publishing. This probably isn't that far off, but the first comment echoes my concerns with e-books:
I must take exception to Klein's declaration that paper is a "wasteful, inefficient, and costly method of production". This is valid only if you view reading a book to be a singular, individual event. In contrast, paper still excels when books are treated as communal or archival objects -- in other words, as objects to be shared or preserved instead of read once and then discarded (or ignored).

For example, while helping my parents pack for a move, I uncovered a tattered and worn copy of "The Mad Scientists' Club", which I had enjoyed immensely as a child. As it turned out, my sons also enjoyed that book when I brought it home and shared it with them 35 years after it was printed. I somehow find it difficult to believe that electronic versions of old favorites will be as easy to preserve as the childrens' favorites which will still be just as readable when that box in the garage gets cracked open in a decade or two (or longer). Whether it be a dead battery or a "dead" format, I see it as all too likely that the content saved would be unreadable in too few years, much less shared with children or grandchildren.

Similarly, paper books excel at sharing. Like many readers, I have no compunctions about wanting to introduce friends to good books (and good authors). How would I casually loan my sole electronic copy of a good book to a friend? Would I have to resort to buying a copy for myself and a copy to loan out? Will the e-publishers even allow their customers to loan out that precious content, or will it be treated like other software?

I'm sorry, but paper editions are still very efficient and very effective the moment you start looking at the content beyond the constraints of "my convenience, now".
Points we all need to think about carefully. We won't, but we should.

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