PerfectBook In An Imperfect World

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by: C. Sven Johnson

I had originally intended to include news of the New York Public Library’s temporary installation of an Espresso book-on-demand machine (aka PerfectBook 040) in the post preceding this one, only this news really deserves its own entry. It’s not that print-on-demand is a new development. It’s that print-on-demand is a new development for so many people.

Those who read Boing Boing and see it mentioned (Link) are probably already aware of such developments, but those reading The New York Times (Link) may not be aware to the same degree. And certainly average people just going to the library are probably much less aware. Add in television news coverage, and the enormity of the changes coming to not just book publishing but product manufacturing may finally register with the public.

What I wonder is whether the public will fully grasp the potential impact that such technology might have on their day-to-day lives. Will they both be aware and understand the significance of stories such as those surrounding, for example, the final Harry Potter book (e.g. scanned copies uploaded to the internet or unauthorized translations)? Will they make the connection between the current Flickr controversy and this kind of technology? What happens when those same amateur photographers discover people using their photos to create calenders for sale on Lulu? When it’s their work being passed around – when someone else is making money from their effort – will attitudes change?

The New York Times carried another story, “Chinese Market Awash in Fake Potter Books” (Link), just one day prior to the Expresso book article. Maybe the timing was no accident. But will readers make the connection? I’m not sure the person posting the Boing Boing entry realized. Or maybe he just doesn’t care at this stage of his career. After all, as he’s probably aware, I’d like to drop an Expresso in front of his publisher’s office and hand out insta-print copies of his books… free-of-charge and within the rights of the noncommercial CC license he uses. If I did, if the difference between bits and atoms was no longer relevant (as is increasingly the case), would he still carry on his crusade without fully educating his audience to the issues? pro and con?

Actually, he probably would. He’s not some unknown author still struggling with a day job, so it’s apples and oranges at this stage. Plus, there’s a smaller audience wanting to hear what Lessig is now saying. And as both he, the guys running Pirate Bay, anonymous Ad-Sense bloggers and Google are aware, the money is in the advertising.

At least that’s where the money is while there’s still product to advertise (admittedly for quite some time to come). But when all that’s left is low-level commodity, and most products are digital files being swapped like mp3’s and materialized using home-based fabbers, there’s not much creative work left to sell and less need to advertise it. I mean, when’s the last time you saw an ad for a gasoline station?

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