Notes to self

Not gold alone brought us hither

Jan 6, 2009

Future of publishing

Books used to be precious commodities when there were only printed copies of them. Even the authors had only one or two carbon copies of the original manuscript which they painstakingly created by typing on paper sheets with carbon papers sandwiched in between those pages. I guess the criteria to determine the number of carbon copies would have been authors’ age and the strength of his fingers because the harder he can type, the more copies he can create.

But things have changed now, since there are eBooks available for most printed books. The manuscript itself is electronic but that was not the case always. It started with enthusiasts keying in entire books onto their computers and publishing them on Project Gutenberg. Now the likes of books.google.com scan the books and the software reads the text from the scanned copies. This makes it possible to make the contents of the book searchable.

Well, we all know that but this introduction was necessary to make my point which I shall proceed to do now…

The way authors present their material has changed based on the technology used to create, distribute and reproduce their work. This is especially true for non-fiction books where it is sometimes helpful or even necessary to provide illustrations, annotations and supplementary information in order to make a point. I have observed the following trends as technology has evolved:

  1. Early printing press: Most content was text with some rudimentary illustrations
  2. Laser printer (circa 1969 as per Wikipedia): Emphasis on quality of paper and colorful images
  3. Digital press (1990s): Digitization of books begins and the focus shifts to text again
  4. Book search (21st Century): It’s possible to search into a growing number of books now hosted on books.google.com

The now possible search is going to radically change the way authors will organize and present their material. Readers are now able to directly seek the section in the book that satisfies their need or curiosity, and with this new behavior, the days of long drawn text are numbered. Authors will now keep their work concise and search friendly. They will use different words that mean the same thing and in doing so, maximize the possibility of their text getting included in a variety of search results. The use of illustrations and images will also decline; at least until image search matures to a point that it becomes useful. Attributions will rise steeply; maybe it already has, because it is easier to detect plagiarism. And, fewer people will read books cover to cover.

Finally, a growing number of authors will chose to not print a book, but just publish a soft copy. As an added advantage, the world will be a wee bit greener.