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Getting There from Here

technologies with enormous potential can lie dormant unless there are significant payoffs along the way to reward those who pioneer them.

John Walker, in [17]

Some publishers may fight rather than switch. They may protest the new technology and push for laws against copying, or for an electronic book standard that tries to keep book production or book copying out of the hands of the average person. That is what happened in the music, software, television, and movie industries. 15th century scribes and 18th century weavers tried the same tactics. But just as happened in those other industries, such publishers will eventually fail. Should it bother us that pocket calculators wiped out slide rules? Should we weep because polio vaccines destroyed iron lungs?

In 2 decades, paper technical books will be the equivalent of phonograph records today; they will exist for historical, sentimental, or ceremonial reasons. Eventually they will go the way of the vacuum tube, which, legend tells us, existed in the forties and fifties. Of course, after skimming parts of an electronic book readers may make their own paper copy if they wish. (A decade ago a high-quality laser printer cost $25,000; today a good PostScript laser printer costs $1,500.) And for the wealthy, paper books will still make good furniture.

Those who are 12 and under have no vested interest and no prior investment in paper technology. The U.S. alone has 30 million electronic game machines; 70 percent of all U.S. homes with a child aged between 8 and 12 have a Nintendo game machine [39]. And in 1990, Nintendo's net income was $488 million on revenues of $3.34 billion [55]; revenues exceeding that of the entire U.S. robotics industry. Almost 46 percent of all U.S. children use a personal computer at home or school. Almost 14 million homes have a computer--double the figure for 1984. On the other hand, although the U.S. produces 3.5 billion books a year, an American adult reads an average of 3 books a year.

Those who are 25 and under are more familiar with television and computer screens than they are with print. In 1991 they have had Pac-Man for 10 years, Apple computers for 14 years, and Sesame Street for 21 years. In a decade paper technical books will still be published--it will take perhaps another decade for them to completely vanish--but the bulk of technical information production and exchange that today we conduct by printing and distributing paper books will by then be electronic.

There will be more books, and they will be always in print. They will be larger, less expensive, easier to get, use, search, filter, and collate, and updates will be monthly--or perhaps continuous.

next up previous contents
Next: The Short Term Up: The New Publishing Technology's Previous: A New View of
Gregory J. E. Rawlins