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Rumored Apple Tablet and the Rumored Future of Print

The hype machine is cranked to frenzy and the air is smokey after the Apple’s latest burst, Come see our latest creation. The more perspicacious among us are connecting dots» between Apple’s product announcement and the New York Time’s imminent (re)erection of a paywall».

Previously, I considered the effect of the digitization of print to paper, which (for now) I think is important to distinguish paper print versus digital print.1 Thinking about the long-term effects of the Google Books project, I wrote

It was easy to believe that the future of the book, not just its electronic advent but its commercial feasability, was in fact a distant future, somewhere between an Apple-branded tablet device and flying automobiles. As long as the present day ability of readers to curl up in the bathtub with their favorite gathering of toxically produced wood pulp remained unchallenged, no one really considered the economic and social impact of etext and ebooks. The day people realized Google was moving its books project out of the academic cloister toward commercial respectability was the day everyone crapped their paper print diapers.

Paper print publishers have been resisting the digitization of the current and back catalogs because this is the way incumbents behave. Like Xerox who suppressed WIMP, like scribes who opposed the printing press, like the music industry who crushed Napster, the paper print industry cannot afford to understand how digital print fundamentally changes the way in which media are used, including non-digital media. Or more succinctly: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it! 2

I suspect Apple will show up with some important partners when they announce a device to bring (among other things) digital print to the rest of us. The publishers and creatives who produce content for this market will reap unprecedented financial reward and historical renown. The next era of human media information is digitally enhanced and is portable. One way or another, next Wednesday we’re going to have a lot to talk about.

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1 Paper has many features distinct from electronic media. The position is so accepted that it’s generated reactionary lists about the ways in which paper books are superior to digital books (exemplum). My point in emphasizing the comparison between paper and digital print is to foreground those features of digital print that are not only distinct from paper, but are also distinct from, say, digital video. For example, digital print can be (more easily) searched for text. Quoting digital print is much easier than quoting digital video. Digital print can be transcribed to paper print with greater holographic fidelity. Etc.