The Other

While I was preoccupied with unpacking and conferring last week, the other (of the two topics I alluded to before) involved developments in the Google Book Empire. So, for instance, the NYTimes acknowledged the groundswell of resistance to the proposed settlement between Google and the Authors Guild, and also posed the question “Will [Digital] Books Be Napsterized?.”
 
For the time being, we’re all still stumbling around in the twilight of print-oriented copyright regimes. Change will come; the pressure of “napsterized” versions will contribute to that, as will consumer demand and competition, once real competition gets started. Eventually, we ought to develop a marketplace in which
  
  Books are published in digital-native form, without restrictive DRM;
  These digital editions are metadata-rich;
  Publishers acknowledge that in all but a very few cases, digital versions (even and especially when free) drive print sales up;
  Editions are not device-specific;
  We can concentrate on making better publications, rather than fighting over which redundant regulatory process controls them.
  
Someone will get there first, and benefit immensely from the market recognition. Since most of the world’s most treasured works are in the public domain, the first-comer can develop a powerhouse line of well-produced digital-print complementary editions (think Everyman’s Library or Modern Library) to support contemporary works. They’ll learn the ins and outs of production and marketplace first-hand, benefiting from their fundamental appreciation of the fact that digital publishing alters the conditions of print publishing at the same time it launches a new artery for distribution. And people will forget that this awkward intermediate phase ever afflicted us — I hope.

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Check out William Mcdonough’s proposal in Cradle to Cradle for a “reusable” book: “In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic ‘paper,’ made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This ‘treeless’ book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle-to-cradle cycles.”

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