Print… it really will endure

Although I am probably one of the most technically oriented people I know, and always have been, I’m convinced print will be with us for a very long time. Libraries and presses, especially those of the University Press persuasion, have gone through some pretty radical changes in the last few decades. It’s easy to forget that this is really nothing new. There have always been changes in how books are created, cataloged, discovered, purchased…and those processes are simply evolving. The printed artifact, however, lends a sense of the ‘real’ that simply will not be replaced by electronic versions in the near future. By “near” I mean a decade or two. The complete migration away from the printed page may never actually happen, but books may indeed stop being printed in the traditional sense. I’ve opined about this many times, and am probably repeating myself in this very blog– the bottom line is, eventually, presses will be forced away from the ‘just in case’ model into ‘just in time’. There’s just too much waste in the existing processes, and as the technology marches forward to creating high quality printed volumes on demand the business processes will have to adapt. There’s also a very strong possibility that the preference for print will be expressed by individuals who will then bear the cost of their choice. We’ve seen this with so many things; get something online and print it out if you like. My bills and newspapers are delivered electronically, and sometimes I print them out…but rarely. What really needs to happen is for the overall quality of the electronic version, and the mechanisms by which they are delivered, must evolve to provide such a pleasant and useful experience that the user is no longer making a sacrifice. That day will come. As the machines improve, so a generation of readers matures with more exposure to receiving electronic versions of just about everything. Print is a lasting format, and libraries will continue to exist, but the day will come when consumers of information don’t know what they’re missing, and won’t miss it at all.

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