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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paper or Plastic?

Op-Ed by Malcolm James

That is a question.

Indeed, the face of publishing has changed so much that notions of homes with book-laden shelves, attics stuffed with boxes of books, and brick-and-mortar bookstores themselves seem almost paradoxical at best and at worst, face the threat of extinction. If you doubt that last statement, consider today's sobering news. 65 million years ago, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was about the size of Manhattan Island; in the modern-era extinction event, the little engine that could weighs less than a paperback book.

True, there are many factors contributing to the dire state of the book publishing industry. Modern television and digital media come to mind. A general lack of new readers probably plays a role. There was a time when cuddling up with a good book was a ritual to be treasured - something one did to learn, to be entertained, to relax. To lose oneself in a good book was a delight nearly as old as Gutenberg's printing press. Alas, the musty scent of old books is no longer something to be inhaled with panache. The breaking of spines and creasing of pages is at an end.

Or is it? Clearly there are still dedicated readers - just look at or the recent successes of The Kite Runner, Stieg Larssen's Millennium Trilogy or The Harry Potter series. Clearly, the world still has an appetite to read. Only, the delivery mechanism is changing. Amazon's Kindle is only one of the many devices that are being used to read modern books. Consider the Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple's iPad and iPod, even eReader apps for computers and other devices. All capable of delivering the experience, perhaps, without fear of cluttering up the attic.

So where does this leave the future of print books and the authors and companies that make billions off peddling them to the general public? Hard to say. Not long ago, the music industry was faced with revolutionary change and (with a little help from Steve Jobs) managed, somewhat, to reinvent itself. The movie industry is still looking for its new role in the digital era. It's no secret that today's dinosaurs - the modern publishers - haven't quite figured out that the little white asteroid looming over their heads is coming right at them. Reticent to change, mired in the past or afraid to change, the end result will be the same.

A very wise man once said, "if you're a dinosaur, then you had better learn to change your diet." With the groundswell of POD (print on demand) publishing, self publishing, indie authors, eBooks and eReaders, perhaps it's time for NewYorkosaurus Rex to get up off its scaly behind and take note.


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