As I've probably mentioned, I've been a book person for forever. Reading at an early age, I've always surrounded myself with ink-on-paper texts. Again, it's the tactile feature of it. Books-on-tape confuse me; I tune it out. I can't more than a few paragraphs at a time off of a monitor, because it's so uncomfortable to do.
Portable EBook readers don't appeal to me. How can you flip a couple pages back, stick a finger in there to hold the place, then flip a couple pages more, to go over what happened? What could be easier than sticking whatever piece of paper on-hand in as a place-marker? Just carrying one around is more cumbersome, heavier, and unwieldly compared to a plain old book. The fear of breaking it alone is enough to discourage me from wanting to carry one around on the random chance I get an opportunity to sit and read. There's the smell of the paper, the feel of the page edges against the thumb as you hold the book in the only comfortable position you can sit. Ebook readers I've seen aren't quite so friendly with viewing angles and the ability to run the controls. It's really easy to run every single control on a paper book, from any angle and even one-handed.
In this month's Fine Books & Collections magazine, there's an article on Google's book search features. that dwells less on Google's technology and more on the future of books themselves.
One feature someone suggested -that completely flew by me - is the possiiblity of Google entering the same market as us by offering Print-On-Demand versions of their scanned books. It's an interesting idea -- searchers can find exactly the information they want, then order the book it originates from. Amazon is probably drooling at the mouth for such capabilities, and their recent acquision of a POD publisher make it more likely they reach this capability sooner. I'm not completely convinced Google would do this, though: they tend to sell services more than products, so unless they teamed up with a POD service to handle every aspect of the fulfillment, it probably wouldn't be to their advantage. Let's just hope they scan the books our business is selling, so people go hit Froogle once Google tells them the title they're looking for.
Bookseller John Durham of Bolerium Books in San Francisco had a quote that explains some of my fetishist desires for real books. He says, "The market will still be there for a certain segment who wants to possess the physical object." When you consider a webpage, is there anything actually there? From a quantum standpoint, does it even exist before it's interpreted, analyzed, converted and adapted by a long list of computer programs from the server to the PC? Books can be owned; electronic data is stored.
Richard Ring, librarian at John Carter Brown Library, said, he has "an inherent distrust for online systems. When the system goes down, it's gone. It's the ultimate ephemera."
Magazines and books can still fit the ephemera mold. Some books were only printed in runs of a thousand, maybe only a couple hundred, before the type was broken up and the printing methodology lost. As those books deteriorate and are destroyed, eventually they won't exist any more. Intel was willing to pay $10,000 for a magazine that wasn't very old, on a paper scale, because so few ever survived the past decades.
(D mocks my stacks of magazines; I've destroyed many, shredding them as packing material, but quite a few lie around here in loosely organized piles. I still read them, really I do.)
Books and magazines still last longer than electronic data. Heck, we had a tough time finding a way to read MSWorks files created six months ago, after a software upgrade. And, besides the value of compatibility, people have been trained to assign value to books. A binding company I once had contact with encouraged businesses to put everything they send to customers in a hard cover, to make it appear booklike. Even if it's a price quote, it will end up on someone's shelf. Who in their right mind throws away a book? We didn't buy their binding equipment, but this lesson stuck with me. Unconsiously, people have a special place in their hearts for books, no matter what's in them.
In the early 20th century, a new publishing industry popped up offering real books - paperbacks - for a quarter each. They were sold in non-bookstore environments, like five-and-dimes and department stores. Other publishers didn't believe they could make money off such a discounted book, others worried it would dilute their market, but in the end the publishing industry remained strong, with many of the "greatest American works" occuring in the 20th century. Book adaptations still dominate high-rated TV shows and films. People want books. There's no disputing that. The market has changed; book sellers are finding themselves overpriced, compared to what buyers will pay, but the market will change to accomodate it. Small publishers (like us) are even demonstrating profitability beyond what's been predicted.
So, I happily expect the next fifty years (and more) years of my life to continue to be full of paper and cardboard, impressed with all the known letters and characters, combined in recognizeable patterns for easy interpretation of the data. Centuries have proven that having one of these in-hand is far more efficient -- and enjoyable -- than any other delivery method. For a guy like me who needs to hold information in his hands, it should be good.
I'll take you back, 14 years ago. I spent a lot of money on buying reprints of old books, newly printed and bound by small publishers, on a variety of social and historical topics, from vampires to Egyptology. Around that time, I bought myself a handheld scanner for importing images into my computer. I also learned of a new project, Project Gutenberg, in which people were converting public-domain books into electronic versions for free on the internet.
I looked at the reprints I'd been buying. I compared what I could do with the handheld scanner with the reprints and Project Gutenberg, and I knew there had to be a way, with this new technology, to cheaply and easily produce small runs of books based on the contents of a diskette.
This idea bumped around in my head for years as I learned more about how this stuff worked. In 1993, things weren't quite ready for what I had in mind, but others were working on it.
"High-speed digital Xerography" is the missing piece I needed. Nowadays, most of the soft-cover books you read are reproduced this way, and companies like CafePress and LuLu are offering on-demand publishing to customers who upload their books.
Now, bring in my wife. For the past few years, she's been collecting writers for her online ventures, and had a magazine project in the works. Book publishing seemed a next logical step.
So, we get the peanut buttery goodness of my quick-and-dirty public domain reprints with the smooth chocolatey writers we've got under our belt, and we have Ephemera Bound Publishing.
Things are still in an early phase... I've done quite a bit of experimenting (hundreds of man-hours) on how to scan in an entire, brittle, century-old book without damaging it and still have high-enough quality for OCR, without spending hours and hours fixing errors (enough time to have just retyped the entire thing). Now that I can do a whole 300-page book in a couple hours, ready for the press, we're putting Ephemera Bound into actual practice.
Our first work, chosen because the book is already falling apart and I could do little new damage to it, is Famous Hussies of History, by Albert Payson Terhune. A collection of magazine articles on influential women of history, it fits nicely into the public domain, has a similar 'feel' to D's projects, and is now our first published book. We'll have our first non-reprint original book up soon, and we've got writers chomping at the bit to have a company like ours publishing their works and marketing them to our expansive customer base.