From stone tablet to e-book

“There’s always room at the top,” said Daniel Webster. But who exactly he was addressing in his famous quote is up for discussion, seeing that he was a thorough-going elitist and excelled at being at the top.

However, it is true that there is always room at the top for those who set their sights on lofty peaks even if they come from lowly beginnings. For example, just look at the history of the Presidents of the USA including the present incumbent in the White House.

And there’s always a demand for talented, gifted writers, with relevant things to say.

These are challenging times for publishers, even perhaps the hardest times ever for traditional publishers. Remarkably it is only one generation ago that books and publishing had not really undergone significant change since the time of Caxton.

We, however, are already living in future-shock!

Nowadays it is fair to ask who or what is a publisher.

In times gone by, the publishing world was dominated by the big boys. The likes of Oxford University Press, Doubleday, Hodder Stoughton, Penguin Books, Faber and Faber, and Thomas Nelson to name but a few.

Now it is more likely to be ‘johndoepublishing.com’.

In the 19th century a whole new era in publishing began. A series of technical developments, in the book trade as in other industries, dramatically raised output and lowered costs. Stereotyping, the iron press, the application of steam power, mechanical typecasting and typesetting, new methods of reproducing illustrations—these inventions, developed through the century and often resisted by the printer, amounted to a revolution in book production.

Today a brave new world technological revolution has transformed the industry. We are on the verge of such dramatic and irreversible change that could effectively mean the demise of the printed, hold-in-your-hand, paper book.

Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, depicted a society where books were systematically burned. In our society we simply don’t need them (printed books that is) anymore. We may see the end of the printed book in our own lifetime. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 we may need to search furtively in the backstreets and alleys of proletariat towns to find copies of old decaying books.

Publishing is about to take a leap into the future. The word out on the streets is change or die. Those who are always looking into the past are often blind to the present.

We can now read books on our laptops, iPads, and cell phones. It is so convenient. I can sit on train and carry a thousand books on my Kindle and access, read, interrogate, highlight, or listen to any of them within seconds.

Public libraries will one day no longer have books on shelves; instead, there will be terminals where we can ‘plug’ in and download any and every book ever written into our own personal private mini-chip. No matter what your point of view is, such a prospect is mind-blowingly amazing.

But where does all that leave publishing?

We have gone from the stone tablet to wax impressions, from papyrus to parchment, from paper to the e-book. It is difficult to predict the future of the printed book, but publishing and publishers will remain. They will, I am sure, change to meet the demands and the fashions of the times we live in. The ability to adapt is, after all, the difference between commercial success and bankruptcy.

To end my blog here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Although electronic books, or e-books, had limited success in the early years, and readers were resistant at the outset, the demand for books in this format has grown dramatically, primarily because of the popularity of e-reader devices and as the number of available titles in this format has increased. Another important factor in the increasing popularity of the e-reader is its continuous diversification. Many e-readers now support basic operating systems, which facilitate email and other simple functions. The  i-pad is the most obvious example of this trend, but even mobile phones can host e-reading software now.”

I love the touch, the smell, the sound of turning a page in the candlelight when I am reading a real book in bed, but the future is at hand.

In the not too distant future, our children’s children may well ask, “Grandma what was a book?”

But writers will always be needed…

Won’t they?

And of course there will always be room at the e-Top.

What is your view of the changing publishing industry?

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