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!

Advertisements