Thirty years ago, when I was a rookie editor at Oxford University Press, there were quite serious discussions within that august organisation about electronic publishing. I remember being astonished when the then Finance Director, now deceased, wondered aloud whether it was wise to be building a new warehouse facility at Corby if the whole market for books was to be computerised by digital editions within five years.
At the time (this was when the standards for CD ROMs were still being defined) this struck me as a wildly extravagant concern. I am not so sure now. Are many publishers planning this year to build large warehouses for books? It seems pretty likely that the market for printed books will be transformed and perhaps for educational and academic books, largely replaced by digital books within 5 or 10 years. That is the kind of time horizon that impacts on warehouse investments.
We recently enhanced our service so that a complete issue can be printed from a PDF file. We have offered page by page printing from the begining, but many publishers do not like the idea of a complete magazine issue being printed from a single downloadable file (the worry is piracy, with one person taking out a subscription and then sending out scores of PDF copies to all his/her friends). I am not sure how valid this worry is, but it is a real one for some publishers. So the option to have a printable PDF of a complete issue is now available on some of our magazines. It will remain a publisher-dependent option. Athletics Weekly is the first magazine to have opted for it.
The PDF is taken at a reasonable resolution, but it is not high-res and so the user can download an issue without undue drumming of fingers on the desk or undue strain on bandwidth (yours or ours). We also omit the external links. The PDF alternative will probably be most useful to subscribers who like to read the magazine on the train or in a plane. It will also be useful to those subscribers who like to use our service so that they can print out the whole magazine — but when I see those requests in the support log files I tend to grit my teeth. My puritanical, ecological streak is aroused by the thought of such wastefulness. Lets hope our provision of this alternative file format is not damaging to the eco-sphere……
Charkin Blog is a blog published in book form by Macmillan. I missed the launch party, but from several reports it was an enjoyable and intriguing event.
I was amused to see in the Macmillan page about the book that it is listed as weighing 0 Kg. That seems to me very light for a book of 576 pp. Could it be that the weight is indeterminate, customisable according to requirements, the book is after all Print On Demand? Perhaps one can order a deluxe version on Indian paper, that would weigh very little, but surely at least 0.2 Kg? The British Library (which presumably gets a free copy) should look after posterity with a copy printed on vellum.
The weightless version of Charkin Blog is still here.
There are plenty of signs that the web is influencing the way we like to see our print products designed and the way prints work. Here is Bo Sacks reporting on the marked tendency for magazines and newspapers to slip into a smaller format, easier to squeeze into a web window without painful shoe-horning. And according to Silicon Alley Insider Google is now encouraging the use of barcodes, printed in newpapers or magazines which will be picked up and interpreted by mobile phones. What would a digital edition do with such a bar code? Well assuming that the bar code was telling you where the nearest Pizza restaurant is, then I guess that is what the digital edition will tell. Google is the biggest ‘ad resolver’ so my guess is that the link will have to go through Google.
It is an article of faith for Exact Editions that:
Print works well on the web when it is represented exactly the way it is.
Exact Editions works on the assumption that the web can re-present print perfectly adequately and there are many advantages in having magazines (and books) accessible on the web as exact replicas of the print editions. Actually, buried beneath this ‘article of faith’ is a very deep conviction that print publications are incredibly strong and will survive and prosper as digital editions (oddly enough, many in conventional publishing doubt this).
On the other hand, we do in various ways try to enhance or improve the print editions so they work better as a web resource than would a mere print replica. First, by making the titles individually and collectively searchable. Second, by adding elements of helpful interactivity (clickable contents pages, e-mail addresses, URLs, phone numbers and ISBNs, for example).
For all these reasons, we find it hard to think of digital publishing as being inimical to print publishing, to reading, or indeed to civilisation as we know it. If you want some gloomy hand wringing about the future of print, of fiction and of literacy you can find it here, here and with rather more insight and optimism here.
We have been thinking more about the ways in which print and digital can interact. And it really is a matter of interaction. This is not a market in which digital will simply replace print and paper. Publishers, booksellers and retailers really need to think long and hard about the immense advantages of working with a medium in which print sales can be used to help digital sales, and vice versa. Having a physical bookstore or news kiosk on the street is potentially a great way in which to leverage digital sales. Having a virtual bookstore or kiosque is an amazingly good way in which to leverage sales of the printed book or to garner more print subscriptions for a magazine. Getting the two media flows to work together is the biggest challenge that we face.