Monday, September 14, 2009

Publishing in the Digital Age

Now that it's nearly 2010, we are finally beginning to see the changing face of the publishing industry, which is changing due to technology. We've all heard the hype about this for years but it's now slowly becoming a reality.

The invention of the printing press and movable type (during the early sixteenth century) created a technological leap forward in communication allowing for the greatest proliferation of ideas that the world had ever seen. These ideas could now be written, printed, and widely distributed in a very brief amount of time, which created an ability to influence many people's thoughts concerning the relevant issues of the day. This was impossible before the technological development of printing with movable type, and it was the technological development of printing itself which fueled the societal changes that later occurred (e.g., the Reformation, the Renaissance) due to the widespread proliferation of ideas via the new print media.

Until the technological innovation of the telegraph (during the late nineteenth century), printed materials (e.g., books, pamphlets, newspapers, illustrations, political cartoons) were the best means by which to communicate ideas and information. The telegraph was able to provide information instantaneous and it was the combination of the telegraph wire's instantaneous capabilities along with the already well established and widely circulated print media (i.e., newspapers) which brought about a revolution in both how and when the news would be reported from that point on.

I can remember when the network television news programs still had the sound of the teletype in the background, and the theme music to go with it. The teletype was a machine that printed-out—continuously—the latest news coming from the wire services and it was the means through which the networks gathered the news. The wire services owed their very existence to the technological innovation of the telegraph and its wire, which is why they were called wire services. Wire services, such as the Associated Press (the AP), still exist, and remain their primary sources for news gathering. And the latest technological innovation in communications—the internet—has now become a primary source for news gathering too.

The digital era is a time of momentous changes in communications technologies, which is reshaping the communications industries. It's amazing what can be done digitally today. I was able to write a book and make it available to anyone with internet access—in both print and digital formats. And it's cost me nothing, except for the technological tools I used to do this with: my laptop computer and internet access (I used free Wi-Fi). The publishing industry is changing rapidly due to this revolution in communications technology, and it is struggling to find its new self. For instance, having worked for both a large newspaper (the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) and a large paper company (International Paper) I have been expecting the crisis many newspapers are now facing: circulation and advertizing is down, and the costs of printing the news on paper is very high.

Here in Tucson, Arizona, one of our two daily newspapers recently closed down: the Tucson Citizen. The paper didn't actually close down…it's just no longer printing the news on paper. This newspaper is now an online e-newspaper. Paper is becoming somewhat anachronistic in the digital era. On the web, documents are in digital formats like PDF (Adobe), iPaper (Scribd), E Ink (Sony), or Kindle (Amazon) which mimic—digitally and electronically—the look of words printed with ink on paper. The Amazon Kindle reader allows all of Amazon's books to be available digitally, wirelessly, and cheaply. E-books are much cheaper than their printed counterparts. The Kindle reader can even have newspapers delivered to it wirelessly. Amazon has also hooked up with Apple and made its Kindle books available to Apple iPhone users; no Kindle reader required. The new Sony reader however, is very competitive with the Kindle in many ways, and it finally has wireless transmission capability. In short, publishing is going through some major changes early in the twenty-first century, due to digital technology, and no one is quite sure what the outcome of these changes will be. But I think were finally beginning to see the rise of digital information over print information. Not that print media will ever be done away with altogether, but that digital media will become people's primary source of information.

I don't think printed books will ever disappear completely, but digital ebooks certainly are becoming more popular—especially with schools. One school, Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts prep school, has recently replaced its entire 20,000 volume library of printed books with a new digital learning center. The school's headmaster, James Tracy, said "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology." What is the school using to replace the printed books? According to the Boston Globe, the school has spent $10,000 dollars on Amazon and Sony readers.

European publishers are upset this week with Google's Book Project because Google wants to profit from selling digitized versions of books that have gone out of print or have no clear copyright holder. And European publishers also believe that Google is attempting to monopolize both digital access to published materials and online book sales. My book just recently went online with Google Books, with sales links to the book's publisher (me) and its printer/distributor (Amazon.com).

Normally I would take news of the digital revolution in publishing in stride, because it's not affecting me, as a reader, directly. I will always like printed books and I will always be willing to pay more for a printed edition of a published written work than I will for a digital edition of the same work. And I will not hesitate to download books from the internet, especially if they are substantially cheaper or even free (who doesn't like free stuff?). Because I have recently written and published a book, I am more directly impacted by the digital publishing revolution than I have ever been in the past. I am looking at this from a much different perspective now, that of a reader who is also now a writer. I have made my book available as a free Adobe PDF file, which is an ebook format, for nearly a year now, while I was still involved in the final editing of the book (and the PDF file). I've always been much more concerned with just getting my ideas out there in any way that I can and not with making money through the sales of my book.

Now that the book is complete, the free PDF edition of the book remains available to anyone with internet access and the printed edition is now available too. A free edition of my book is also available in iPaper format on Scribd.com, which can be downloaded in PDF format, and it's had many reads and downloads. The wirelessly delivered Amazon Kindle edition of my book is also available from Amazon.com for $3.99, which is substantially lower than the cost of the printed edition of the book, which is also available from Amazon.com and for a very reasonable price (Trade Paperback, 275 pages w/index, $16.00 + $3.99 for shipping = $19.95).

My next project is to make my book available through Sony's new reader, which comes out at the end of this month. I do own the rights to the book, and from what I have read, Sony's digital book prices will be competitive with Amazon's Kindle book prices ($9.99 or less) and I imagine I will price Sony's digital edition of my book the same as Amazon's Kindle edition ($3.99), which I think is a fair price for a good digital reader edition of the book. Thankfully, the print edition of my book is a very good investment for $19.99. I've put a lot of work into the book and it contains a lot of information, which is most comfortably and conveniently transmitted from my mind to the readers by way of words that have been printed with ink on paper. All of which is contained between the covers of one handy sized and durable book. No batteries required.

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