- by Jackie Kramer
I’m a proud participant of Earth’s newest age…the Age of Computers. Actually, we all are members since most of us work on computers, but I’m talking about a major shift in the publishing world, e-publishing. As far back as the mid-1950’s, SF guru Robert Heinlein described in one of his young adult books a scene where his character was sitting in the waiting room of the local space port, pending his ship’s boarding call. To kill time, he took a small hand-sized electronic computer from his backpack, slipped in a quarter-sized silver disk, and immersed himself in a story by his favorite author.
As a young reader, I have to tell you, this whole scene absolutely fascinated me. Even at a young age, I despaired that I couldn’t keep more than a couple of my favorite books with me at all times. The idea that someday readers could actually have the capacity to carry an entire library with them…! That was pure heaven to me. Fast forward fifty years and SF becomes fact. But e-publishing is more than a fad; it represents an entire new shift in publishing.
For anyone who may not be a history buff, storytelling has evolved just as the Human race has evolved. Right from the start, as Man learned to verbalize, storytelling was born. Each tribe had their story teller who taught through oral histories and re-enforced religious beliefs with their myths of gods and goddess. Then with the development of writing, these stories could be saved forever on stone. Good for longevity, but hard to carry in your pocket.
Luckily, by the Middle Ages, writing was firmly established. Thousands of dedicated monks spent hours producing beautiful manuscripts. The only problem was that these were labor-intensive and therefore very costly. The public had to depend on the few scribes available for hire. Storytellers were still mostly verbal for the general population. But in the early 1450’s, there was another major publishing shift…the invention of the Guttenberg press. These early printed books were created with hand-set type and still costly, but as the Machine Age came into being, so did printing presses improve. By the 1800’s, books were available for anyone who wanted them. This was the world of printing until the invention of the computer.
Now, thousands of titles are being committed to digital form, including titles as old as the first written word. The day of multiple copies of one title being printed and sold is passing into the mist like the old hand-lettered manuscripts. Between Print on Demand and electronic readers, a new age has dawned for writing. To youngsters raised with computers and video games, print reading doesn’t have the appeal it does to older readers. Despite Harry Potter and his friends, the day of the printed book is fading.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love the feel of a book in my hands. I love the smell of a bookstore and the rustle of pages in a library. But I’m realistic enough to know that the days of Star Trek are coming. The days when the cost of paper, ink, printing, and warehousing will drive printed books into extinction. Print-On-Demand, the system by which a title is digitalized and printed out, one book at a time, will hold off the end for a while. But eventually, printed books will become the luxury that monastery-produced manuscripts were.
Until then, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had the privilege to be published in both worlds. And I hope I’ve done Robert Heinlein proud.