Monday, 2 June 2008

Goodbye Printed Page, Farewell Bookstore...

By Darren E Laws

Mobile content will be the new book. Digital format is, like it or not, going to
have an impact on the traditional form of a physical book. While many people reading this will undoubtedly choose not to believe that this metamorphosis is occurring and for many there is nothing that beats the romanticism of holding a book and feeling the pages turn between your fingers, the change is happening.

Future generations are facing up to the fact that there are many things that are having an impact on the world they live in and amongst these will include the mass printing of millions of books only to be returned and pulped. The carbon footprint cannot continue and sooner or later this will be frowned upon by a population that looks at the sheer amount of energy the industry wastes in a most unfavourable light.

Mobile and digital content already exists and will be seen increasingly by younger audiences as the natural way to consume content. Their minds are already being trained to deal with the problems facing them. While their parents struggle with the concept of recycling and the $4 gallon (or if like me you live in the UK £2.00 litre), they are being born into a world where natural resources are dwindling, terrorism is the new cold war, Christians are the new infidels (though I believe they were the old infidels as well) and the ice caps are melting.

So how can the publishing industry continue to sustain such a flagrant waste of energy and resources? The simple answer is it can't. Alternatives have to be explored and pursed if the new world is not to become a place that sees any form of literature as pointless and future generations turn to the XBox and wii as their only hope of cultural salvation. Digital content is the language this generation understands. They download music, software, films. They socialise on-line, meet new buddies and find old buddies. Their world revolves around digital content being fed down a wire.

Bookstores will close along with a host of other retail outlets. I am not for one moment suggesting the complete closure of the shopping mall or high street, but a commercial market that is radically different to the one we take for granted today. By this I mean the world that is happy overstocking, over-printing and using huge amounts of energy transporting product only for it to be returned and literally burned or pulped.

The new consumer will get the majority of its physical wares from an on-line portal or download it directly in the form of 1's and 0's. Not a leap of the imaginations is it? The publishing industry has to wake up and sniff the java. The methods employed today cannot continue and will not be viewed favourably ten years from now.

Print-on-Demand will help allay those fears over the next decade by producing physical content only when it is actually demanded, but the new world will embrace methods that place less stress on the environment. Currently we have the eBook, mobile phone downloads, the Kindle, various other electronic book readers, and direct web site downloads as alternatives to the printed page. I am sure as the web develops these will evolve and some may even be laughed upon as anachronistic, but the future of how we consume content will change through necessity and through the evolution of the reader.

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