Business Week’s David Kiley says “Obama is great for newspapers” and describes his search for a newspaper this morning, only to find there were none available at the many locations he looked.
Mr. Kiley wraps his post by asking the question “could it be that with such change afoot amidst a national financial crisis, readership of the dead-trees product will swing up again?” Perhaps, but I don’t think that is the reason there were no newspapers left at 8:30 am this morning in Ann Arbor, MI. Instead I’ll suggest that when people want to hold a piece of something, especially when that something is connected to an event like the historical moment we all witnessed last night, they want something tangible. Something real.
Why not just archive a digital copy of the New York Times, or take a screen capture of your web browser open to you local paper’s website? Because those are not the same are they? Do people keep the paper because 50 years from now, they want to pull it out of a box in the attic and share it with their grandchildren or even great grandchildren? Seems a more authentic experience than booting a PC, or an e book reader doesn’t it? Gone is the feeling of the paper in your hand. The smell. The texture. The sound it makes as it moves in your hands. Electronic formats are a long way from being able to replicate that.
Paper is still future-proof in many respects. Today we still have physical access to books that date back centuries. Imagine the scenario above and in 50 years hoping that digital copy of the New York Times on your Kindle is still accessible. Assuming of course, your Kindle still works.
At this point you might be thinking that my examples serve to further the point that paper is not dead – and you would be right. In fact, I believe there is a very good chance that we will always want some permanently imprinted or inscribed format for our words wither it be paper or not. And that is really my point – publishers need to start thinking not only about the convenience of formats like e books and start considering how we can make those formats as future-proof as paper.
E books and related media suffer from too many formats, too many devices, and too much DRM and very little is being done to make sure that readers will always be able to access that content in the future.
Centuries ago publishers defined a format for the book – ink on paper, bound together. As we define the formats for the future book, we must not forget about the generations to follow and their access to the words within.
What do you think?
(Photo credit: Wilsonious)