Business Weekly (“The Voice of Europe’s Innovation Capital – The East of England”) has just published an article about viaLibri.
It always feels a bit odd seeing yourself through the prism of other people’s interests and world view. This was no exception, but I am not about to complain. I’m always happy when someone takes an interest in what I am doing, especially when they are approaching it from outside the generally biblio-centric universe I usually inhabit. There was, naturally, the inevitable interest in identifying the oldest books available, but I was spared having to also identify the most expensive. Instead, the interviewer was curious to know about what countries the oldest books came from, and where they ended up. That was actually an interesting question which I might have enjoyed answering at length, but I restrained myself. Perhaps I will blog about it on another day.
Being interviewed was an interesting experience. This publication is focused, in particular, on the fast growth, innovation-driven business community that is part of the technology cluster that has developed around Cambridge, England, where we are now based. The people at the centre of it are working with stuff like genomes, artificial intelligence and all the impossible to understand inventions that brainy people come up with when they start out doing pure research and then suddenly realize “hey, we could actually make something really useful out of this.” Writing about all these freshly minted venture-backed technology companies and their more mature science park neighbors is what Business Weekly normally does. Interviewing me was a bit off their usual beat.
So, as might be expected, the reporter was especially interested in knowing how viaLibri fit in with the well-reported march of disruptive technology as it applies to printed books. He wondered if the growth of digital media and the reported death of paper might mean there was no future for books. My opinion, of course, was to the contrary, and I was happy for the opportunity express it to an audience that might be thinking otherwise.
But what pleased me most was the discovery that Business Weekly itself offered irrefutable testimony to the superiority of paper over screen. Because, you see, it is still a product of the printing press. Of course, it now also has an online version, but that is a far less satisfactory product, albeit a far cheaper one to produce and distribute. The article about viaLibri shows this. In the printed version the article takes up all of page 4 (apart from an advertisement), and includes a large photograph in the middle. In the photograph I am holding an interesting old book. It is, moreover, a folio. (The cheerleaders for ebooks are, of course, silent on the subject of folios). The version of the article which appears on the website also has its picture, but the constraints of pixel and screen dictated that it had to be cropped. The picture you see there shows only my head and shoulders. The book I am holding is nowhere in sight.
Unfortunately, I cannot offer you a link to the printed version. That technology does not yet exist. However, there is something else that I can link to which will allow my point to be demonstrated quite well. In addition to its ink and paper edition Business Weekly also appears in an “epaper” version. This is an exact digital facsimile of the printed version which allows you to “leaf” through its pages to the accompaniment of an annoying scratching/scraping sound. If you scrape the epaper version of this week’s edition to page 4 you will see an image of the article, with the full photograph, as it also appears in print. The epaper will show you what the website version has lost.
But you will not be able to actually read the epaper version because the type is much too small. To make it legible you must zoom in. That gives you type that is big enough to read, but forces you to scroll all over the page and read the text through what is, essentially, a moveable rectangular peep-hole. It is not a satisfying way to read. Why? Because Business Weekly is a folio, as any good newspaper should be. epaper only comes in one format: small. It is inextricably constrained by the dimensions of the screen on which it is displayed. Folio is out of the question. For that you need paper, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Which is one of many reasons why I think, for books at least, the future of paper is still secure.