The Future of Books (05 Jan 2005)
A post-Gutenberg system could be assembled now from existing technologies. But while the technologies exist, the commercial infrastructure to support them does not. Music publishers sell directly over the Internet to consumers who play tunes on devices like the iPod. But before book publishers can sell titles directly to readers, they will need to build thousands of book machines.
Unfortunately, the new system cannot be implemented without a viable market: none exists at the moment. One possible solution lies in the unprecedented ability of these new technologies to reach previously inaccessible markets: for example, the 47 million Americans for whom English is a second language but who have no convenient way to buy books.
Gutenberg was a Catholic entrepreneur who sold religious trinkets and printed indulgences before creating his famous Bible. He thought he could cure the schisms of the 15th century by distributing a uniform missal to all the churches of Europe. Instead, he helped create the Protestant Reformation.
The impact of today’s more powerful technologies can scarcely be imagined. What seems to me certain is that these technologies will soon overwhelm the obsolescent Gutenberg system and confront us once again with unprecedented risks and opportunities
Article URL: http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/01/issue/epstein0105.asp
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