I Was Wrong About Book-On-Demand

Here's a fun case of me not anticipating an imminent technological development, not thinking that last centimetre of far enough. In July of 2007, six years ago, I wrote:

Lately I have come to think of books as computer devices, combining the functions of screen and backup medium. All texts these days are written and type-set on computers, so the paper thingy has long been a secondary manifestation of the text. People like publisher Jason Epstein and book blogger the Grumpy Old Bookman have predicted that we will soon have our books made on demand at any store that may today have a machine for making photographic prints. The texts will reside on the net, on our USB memory sticks or on our handheld computers/cell phones. The paper output/backup-storage device we call “a book” will be produced swiftly in the store by a dedicated machine.

A bit less than six months later, Amazon released the first Kindle e-book reader, making sure (in the words of The Guardian's tech editor Charles Arthur), that a few years later “Amazon has millions of stores right on peoples' desks, smartphones and tablets through its website and Kindle app”. Book-on-demand printing will never become big as I thought in 2007, because the texts don't just reside on our phones as I noted – we read them on our phones now. I've never seen the point of a dedicated e-reader, just as I quit using my iPod as soon as I got a smartphone with enough storage for my music files. All devices dealing with information are converging on smartphones. And so, while use of the free Kindle smartphone app is booming, sales of the physical Kindle device are dropping off, reports The Guardian. And brick-and-mortar book stores are going the way of the record and video rental stores.

Strange though how poorly we (well, myself in this case) interconnect the various contents of our heads – an inability which H.P. Lovecraft calls the most merciful thing in the world in the opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”. When I wrote enthusiastically about book-on-demand printing, I had actually already begun reading books on my phone more than a year previously, in April of 2006, and I was already aware of e-reader hardware at the time. Only in 2010 however do I find myself entertaining the possibility of the paperback book becoming obsolete. This oversight probably had to do with e-book availability. In early 2006 few new books were available in digital format. The first one I read was a novel put on-line for free by its author, Michael “Grumpy Old Bookman” Allen. And reading PDFs on a smartphone still is no fun today, let alone on my tiny 2006 Qtek smartphone. Little did I know what Amazon was planning.

The Grumpy Old Bookman has returned to blogging! Check out his site if you like reading and/or writing and/or publishing!

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I am a researcher. I have book shelves filed with binders full of articles. Last year I stopped printing out articles, I save them as PDF. I read them on my tablet. I mark and comment in them with my Adobe program. I link to them with my bibliography database.
When I get time I will scan every article I have and add them to my digital library on Dropbox or wherever.
I may be able to get rid of several metres of bookshelves in our home.

All so true but we have 3 private libraries in our home. One is 150feet of technical data on electronics and science. Another 220feet of a very wide variety of subjects, I like challenging visitors to name a subject and getting the book down. And a 100feet of talking books on cassette and CD. Also 100feet of movies. And about that many as ebooks.
We love the feel of books, the smell, the act of turning the page. But there is one way that ebooks of all types are better, I can search for specifics a lot faster. OK 2 ways, you can store a lot in a small space.
The only ebooks a do not like are the phoney ones. The type made, usually pdf's, that are just scanned images of paper making the pdf. I'd rather have the paper.

I love never having to worry about being stranded somewhere without reading matter.

I sell a local hiking guide via a print on demand service and have noticed that most of my sales are of the PDF, not the paper book. Since it was a coffee table like book with lots of pictures, I was surprised, but I'm guess a lot of people have it on their iPads which are sort of coffee table computers.

Maybe books won't be print on demand, but things like replacement parts, household figurines, kitchen gadgets and a host of other things may be. After all, until we all live in holodecks, we will need to have physically printed spatulas, not spatulas on our smart phones.

I was copying interesting articles from Science and Nature for fifteen years, but a shortage of space eventually forced me to reconsider my attitude to electronic media. As for books, I "store" them in the town library (by donating them).
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OT: Since the Soviets rudely refused to invade, the Swedish defence is selling out a lot of real estate, including storage facilities and formerly top-secret underground bunkers .
A must-have for any budding Bond criminal.
(Swedish text) http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/staten-saljer-forsvaret/

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 15 Jul 2013 #permalink

I was copying interesting articles from Science and Nature for fifteen years, but a shortage of space eventually forced me to reconsider my attitude to electronic media.

Similarly for me. I used to prefer paper copies, but I have only so much filing cabinet space, and I had nearly filled what I have. I find that I almost always have to rename the files, however, because most publishers give them either generic names like "fulltext.pdf" or some file name that may be of significance to the people who designed their system but is unintelligible to civilians. A notable exception here is the American Physical Society: they made the effort to make their file naming conventions intelligible to ordinary users. For example, if the paper copy of an article was in Physical Review Letters, volume 123, page 456, then the file name for the electronic version (the base of which forms the part of the DOI after the slash) would be PhysRevLett.123.456.pdf .

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Jul 2013 #permalink

The Cloud: Where all of your reading material, how you mark it up, and what pages you read when and for how long can be monitored, analyzed, and purposefully misinterpreted by your 'betters'.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 15 Jul 2013 #permalink

I readily admit being an electronic book junkie. For personal reading, you can't beat the amount of stuff you can drag around on a kindle. And for scientific articles it's the searchable collection that makes indexing by hand superfluous. Nothing worse than digging through a 4 ft file drawer trying to remember if you filed it under reaction, material, or equipment. Just to find out the copy is on your bosses desk under "neat stuff I will read when I have time, presumably 2015".
The only place I still drag paperbacks with me is on airplanes, I hate that half hour of "turn off your electronic equipment".