Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Doomed: the "tree-book"

Guambat was reading yet another review of the ascendancy of "e-books", such as the Kindle, iPad, eReader, Nook, etc. The guffaw is over the technological "advance" it makes and how the treebook will soon be a thing of the past. It's doomed, they say.

Fascination with gadgetry is totally understandable to Guambat.

Many eons ago in Guambat's youth, he was enamored of a plastic submarine that was marketed on a box of cereal. He pestered his Mom until she gave in, but at a price. She said that it would be the one and only gadget she would ever get if Guambat tired of it quickly, which she bet would happen.

Oh NO, exclaimed the enthusiastic Guambat. It's like a real submarine and dives and surfaces and all that.

When it came at last in the (snail)mail, it was taped in a small package. It was put to shame by Crackerjack Box toys.

It was so small, even Guambat's little boy fingers could hardly deal with it. Dealing with it involved prying open a small capped hole in the base of the thing, stuffing a pinch of baking soda in it, capping it back up, and dropping it in a glass of water.

Wherein, it flopped over as the baking soda fizzed away, bobbed to the top of the glass and, at some great length of time (anything beyond a minute was a great length of time to an impatient young Guambat), settled to the bottom of the glass. Much like the feeling Guambat had when he realized that was the last thing he'd ever get from a cereal box, except cereal.

Guambat's great joy at getting the newest gadget has been tempered all these years by that sunken experience.

Gee, Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, back to the ebook vs treebook theme.

This opinion piece in the WSJ: From Gutenberg to Zoobert

In the hit 1998 film "You've Got Mail," Meg Ryan's independent bookstore couldn't compete with the big chain-store competitor.

The creative destruction in the book business has led even Andy Ross to have some sympathy for Barnes & Noble. Mr. Ross was the owner of Cody's Books, a well-known independent bookstore located near the Berkeley campus of the University of California. He owned Cody's Books for some 30 years before competition from the big stores closed it down in 2008.
[Before Mrs. Guambat became Mrs. Guambat, she would regularly take Guambat to Cody's as sort of a date, and they happily spent many hours transfixed in the isles and stacks, mesmerized by the cacophony of telepathy from thousands of authors living and dead: "read me, read me".]
"The only thing anyone is talking about in the book business is e-books," Mr. Ross told me last week. "I see it as being similar to the music industry. There is going to be a tipping point where e-books become the dominant medium, thus ending 500 years of the Gutenberg Age."

Just a couple of months ago, the WSJ ran this story, in the same "vain": 'Vanity' Press Goes Digital
Writer Karen McQuestion spent nearly a decade trying without success to persuade a New York publisher to print one of her books. In July, the 49-year-old mother of three decided to publish it herself, online.

Much as blogs have bitten into the news business and YouTube has challenged television, digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that's threatening the traditional industry. Once derided as "vanity" titles by the publishing establishment, self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.

The market is likely to shift into two tiers, "branded/high-quality" and "cheap/good enough," predicts author and lecturer Seth Godin. Mainstream publishing houses have long depended for much of their profit on selling backlist titles, books in print for more than a year. In coming years, there will be adequate substitutes for many of those works at a quarter of the price, he says.

And a couple of days ago, the WSJ noted this item: Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All Digital (reproduced, mostly, here)
As digital books continue to gain market share, one of the country's oldest mass paperback publishers is abandoning its traditional print books and making its titles available in digital format and print-on-demand only.

Dorchester Publishing Inc., a closely held book and magazine house, said it is making the switch after its book unit sales fell 25% last year, in part because of declining orders from some of its key retail accounts

All of which made Guambat recall this.

The Doomsday Book is a detailed survey of the land held by William the Conqueror and his people, the earliest surviving public record, and a hugely important historical resource.

According to this website:
The Domesday Book is closely linked with William the Conqueror's attempt to dominate Medieval England. Along with a string of castles throughout England, the Domesday Book was to give William huge authority in England.

To further extend his grip on England, William I ordered that a book be made containing information on who owned what throughout the country.

This book would also tell him who owed him what in tax and because the information was on record, nobody could dispute or argue against a tax demand. This is why the book brought doom and gloom to the people of England - hence "Domesday Book".

The decision of what someone owed was final - rather like Judgement Day when your soul was judged for Heaven or Hell.

William ordered the survey of England to take place about twenty years after the Battle of Hastings. The Saxon Chronicle states that it took place in 1085, while other sources state that it was done in 1086. The whole survey took less than a year to complete and the books can be found in the Public Records Office.

The Domesday Book forms a remarkable record of the state of England in the mid-1080's.

So remarkable is the history, and the shear mankindness, of this treebook, that the BBC decided to go it one better and assure its place for the ages, as the following article in 2002, written almost One Thousand years after the Doomsday Book, described.

Digital Domesday Book lasts 15 years not 1000
It was meant to be a showcase for Britain's electronic prowess - a computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book. But 16 years after it was created, the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project has achieved an unexpected and unwelcome status: it is now unreadable.

The special computers developed to play the 12in video discs of text, photographs, maps and archive footage of British life are - quite simply - obsolete.

As a result, no one can access the reams of project information - equivalent to several sets of encyclopaedias - that were assembled about the state of the nation in 1986. By contrast, the original Domesday Book - an inventory of eleventh-century England compiled in 1086 by Norman monks - is in fine condition in the Public Record Office, Kew, and can be accessed by anyone who can read and has the right credentials.

'It is ironic, but the 15-year-old version is unreadable, while the ancient one is still perfectly usable,' said computer expert Paul Wheatley. 'We're lucky Shakespeare didn't write on an old PC.'

Nor is the problem a new one. A crisis in digital preservation now afflicts all developed countries. Databases recorded in old computer formats can no longer be accessed on new generation machines, while magnetic storage tapes and discs have physically decayed, ruining precious databases.

For millennia, men and women have used paper to create everything from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Neville Chamberlain's 'piece of paper from Herr Hitler'. In the past few decades, computers, scanners, cassettes, videos, CDs, minidiscs and floppy disks have been used to replace the written word. Yet in just a few short years these digital versions have started to degrade.

The space agency Nasa has already lost digital records sent back by its early probes, and in 1995 the US government come close to losing a vast chunk of national census data, thanks to the obsolescence of its data retrieval technology.

Betamax video players, 8in and 5in computer disks, and eight-track music cartridges have all become redundant, making it impossible to access records stored on them. Data stored on the 3in disks used in the pioneering Amstrad word-processor is now equally inaccessible.

Our digital heritage - only a few decades old - is already endangered, as broadcaster Loyd Grossman pointed out last week. 'Last year marked the 30th anniversary of email, but it is salutary that we do not have the first email message and no knowledge of its contents,' he said at the launch of the Digital Preservation Coalition. Saving Domesday Project is viewed as one of the coalition's top priorities.

Guambat really, really hopes you have stuck with this post down to here, because this is where tragedy meets irony. The Doomsday Preservation Group website contains the following message (click to enlarge; right click to open enlargement in new tab):

See also this informative piece,
Lost in Cyberspace: The BBC Domesday Project and the Challenge of Digital Preservation (Released June 2003)

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