There is always a lot to a talk about and write of in the ever changing and dynamic tech world. While at it, many people usually wish away a powerful tool of the previous centuries: traditional publishing. What do I mean by traditional publishing? Well, read to see what is and how this very forefather of the currently celebrated digital publishing is being phased out in what is really the strongest signal of the realities of the information age.
When two weeks ago the mother of all reference books, Encyclopedia Britannica, announced that it was putting out its last print publication, I was like “Wow! Cheers to digital publishing” but really what is it with traditional stuff that they don’t get it right? First we have what has existed since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440; these were the very first bricks of advancements in technology that were laid. It has been hard dismantling them but with the success of new digital media like online reference site and popular user-edited encyclopedia Wikipedia has demonstrated, the realities of the information age are here for anyone to see. It is no longer business as usual; you either ship in or ship out. The recent step taken by the publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica to close their print division and focus entirely on online publications is a big win for digital publishing.
In a world where every question you ask is responded to with a simple statement like, “there’s an app for that” then you have to join the app bandwagon or risk losing out on what you once controlled. There’s no denying that Encyclopedia Britannica was the darling of many scholars and households the world over but then again, we are in a new age where the information consumed by the masses is curated by the masses for the masses themselves thus the success of the likes of Wikipedia. Unlike Encyclopedia Britannica which was costly to start with, Wikipedia is absolutely free and the Wikimedia Foundation is doing all that it can to make the content free. Well the last publication of Encyclopedia Britannica costs something upwards of $1300. Imagine that! Now who will fork out $1300 for a collection of 32 separate hardcover books (volumes) in the name of buying reference material? Not unless you are a public library or the chief curator at the Louvre. The other issue is portability. See this: the last publication of the Encyclopedia Britannica has 32 volumes. Well imagine how clumsy and cumbersome it is going through all the 32 volumes in a world where information is available in a few keystrokes on the easy landing page of Google search? Wikipedia’s search bar ain’t hard to find either. Add to that the fact that the whole encyclopedia is static and will only be reviewed at the end of the year where you will be required to part with a similar amount (several thousand dollars cough cough). Now look at the information online that change every time something changes. Like do you remember the day Bin Laden died and how many times his Wikipedia page was edited? All in a bid to provide relevant and up to date information.
While new and emerging digital publishing platforms and tools have their advantages, they also have their downsides. Look at Wikipedia for example. It is edited by any user who registers with the site. In fact one need not have an email address to do this. Anonymous faceless editors are also allowed. Even though there are experts who normally get to verify most of the information published on the site, this cannot match the well curated information we used to get from traditional publications like Encyclopedia Britannica which was written by renowned and respected scholars and specialists in their fields. However, digital publishing is an idea whose time has come and which has to be embraced. Encyclopedia Britannica has now gone fully digital and those precious copies you still have are the last you will ever have since the print publication gets overshadowed by history from this moment on.
What I still wonder is when we are soon going to see the same information age kill things we are accustomed to, like all print publications (newspapers, magazines etc.). This will be derailed by the digital divide since even the new digital published content like reference materials from Wikipedia that I am hailing here have had to be availed offline for certain third world populations to gain access. However, sooner or later, it will be the way to go and the go to way. There’s no doubt about that when we have a good example of how a business that has run things largely traditionally for 244 years (since 1768) could abandon that model and go the iTunes way.
There’s humour to it. A friend recently explained to me why we will not see the demise of the traditional print newspaper any time soon. He posed, “You will go to buy fish at the market and expect them to be wrapped for you in a newspaper. Well, tell me if this digital stuff you are advocating for will allow this. Like will they wrap the fish for you using an iPad?” I was dumbfounded.