Some thoughts on digital publishing

Having just read Adrian Shaughnessy’s Design Week article on electronic publishing (as well as all the other iPad-centric artciles that have been knocking around the last couple of weeks), I’m left with some niggling concerns about where this is all headed, especially as the publishing industry continues to stick to the incredibly flawed and simplistic notion that the iPod/iTunes model will translate directly to publishing.

The beauty of newspapers, magazines and books is their accessible, dispersive nature. Libraries, hospital waiting rooms, charity shops, second-hand book stores, train carriages, coffee tables — books and magazines are everywhere, and in one way or other, accessible to all. Electronic publishing is great for the coffers of the actual publishers, but they have no reason to invest in the text’s life beyond the initial financial transaction. You’ll buy an e-book, it’ll exist on your electronic platform of choice, and then … dead end.

You can’t give it away or leave it somewhere for someone else or even easily lend it to someone. The whole idea of passing on knowledge through text – something we’ve spent centuries perfecting – could very suddenly take a huge backward step in the name of profit.

And what about those people (i.e. the majority of the civilisation) who can’t even afford the electronic device on which to read the text in the first place? Should we so blithely encourage the broadening of the division between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, literate and illiterate? Yes, I admit this hypothesising is all a tad extreme, but we are putting an awful lot of power into a handful of companies who don’t necessarily have a long-term view of how this technology is going to effect us. And it is going to effect us, for better or worse, really quickly.

Here’s hoping that there’s a Gutenberg or Carnegie out there who’ll be able to see things with a little more clarity and can keep the power of text in the hands of the readers.