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Is Paperback Extinction Looming? Reading and Writing in the Transition Era

If books in traditional book form die, it's not the end of the world

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      And let's not forget the not so minor problem of paying for all this. Along with feature loaded formats, there's usually copyright issues, ownership issues, and costs for licensing/supporting formats. Depending on what kind of e-reader a person is using, all of the above makes getting books onto it in a format it can handle an interesting challenge. How'd you like to be in charge of getting e-book readers for a school system, or a business? Getting it wrong could be expensive - and leave you in a bad place down the road if new formats appear that are incompatible, or your installed base gets left behind. And then there's an old problem.

   The organization I work for got a new head honcho several months ago. He's deliberately paper-phobic; wants all reports, messages electronically and just won't look at anything on paper. But.... it's not like he's going to see the thousands of other employees in the organization all get smart phones, laptops, or iPads, not when we're facing layoffs, budget cuts, and salary concessions.  Funny how that works, hmm? (And of course, I'd be thinking scurrilous thoughts if I contemplated how much easier it is to make electronic communications 'disappear' in the unlikely event of discovery motions, subpoenas, and the like.

     • Remember WYSIWYG? The advent of the original Macintosh and the Apple Laserwriter, along with Pagemaker way back in the dark ages of the 1980s started a revolution in the printing/publishing business. It allowed an individual to create printed works of a quality that used to require a full-fledged print shop staffed by full time professionals. Desktop publishing is now so common, it's largely invisible - but at the time it created an entire new publishing niche. Authors could write, edit, and publish books on demand - and print shops that wanted to survive had to adopt the new technology and be ready to accommodate customers using it.

      The newspaper business got turned around as electronic publishing took over - you no longer needed huge, complicated machines and skills to put together a credible newspaper, with the right computer technology and software. The trend has continued  on steroids(blatant commercial plug) into the internet age, to the point where traditional dead tree newspapers are finding it harder and harder to compete with the net. Those without a viable net presence and a strategy for making money from it are in real trouble - and that includes some big names. It's also had some serious consequences for others in the publishing food chain as their ecosystem has been disrupted.  Tom Tomorrow captures the dilemma in this timely work.

Swimming in the Digital Sea

        As the digital world of literature expands and evolves, there are new opportunities to counter some of the downside effects. As desktop publishing expanded the possibilities for a writer to get their work into print, the internet and e-publishing continues the trend. In theory, it's no longer necessary for a writer to sign a book deal with a publishing house to get into print; without the need to put text on paper, a web site will do. Of course, there's still the not inconsiderable hurdle of  Heinlein's rules for becoming a successful writer. The short version is:

    • 2) You must sell what you write.

   How, of course, is the rub, especially #2. Paypal buttons, merchandise sales, ads - these are all ways writers are trying to make writing pay. I believe it was Tom Tomorrow who responded to the oft-heard statement "Information wants to be free" with the observation "But the rent wants to be paid." Getting paid - especially when there is so much for 'free' on the net is problematic.

 
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