Monday, August 17, 2009

Recently I became aware of a company that specializes in custom print-on-demand books. The company is called BookRiff, and the service they provide allows you to compose a book using online-available content -- be it free, licensed, your own, or any combination of the three.

In considering the possibilities, I am reminded yet again of the huge changes in book publishing – and why publishers always seem to be lagging.

For example, where were the big house publishers back in the 1970s, when the first home computers came on the market? Did they not have the foresight to see that computers would one day replace much of what we read in book form, eventually giving birth to a book of its own (Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s PRS-500), one that contains enough memory to turn my library into a yoga studio? Why was the home computer coming to us from an electronics retailer (Radio Shack) and not a publishing house, or at least one of its parent or subsidiary companies?

The first computer I ever saw was an 8x10-foot room in my high school, behind the principal’s office. (I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was always getting caught, so I saw a lot of it.) Outside the door hung a shelf, on top of which was a box of rectangular-shaped manila-coloured cards. The cards, once marked, were fed into a slot and the sound of the room went from a purr to what happens when a fork gets caught in a garburator. “The computer is a tool,” my principal told me, “designed to make our life easier.”

Then, sometime in the 1990s, the computer became a medium. Shortly after that, my phone became a camera. Now it’s my other computer, a compact to the mid-size model that is driving this entry.

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