Text A What is Publishing?
Publishing is a process by which human communication is made public. The intention in the first human messages transmitted by the first public speech, the first musical performance, even the first marks scratched on to a cave wall or rock face, are all integral to a history that leads through time right up to the door of contemporary publishing. Publishing has been present in every personal, political, social expression of ideas, in every creative instinct, impression, emotion, thought, memory, information exchange that has ever deliberately been made public in any cultural context since humans first began to record existence.
The extraordinary breadth and longevity of publishing is matched only by the uniqueness of each and every published event.1 All publishing, whether a book, a music recording, television programme, film, photo, magazine or newspaper, is unique in itself. Each road taken in the writing, composition, production and marketing of every publication is different.
All the roles and decisions on the way to every publishing event describe alternative routes and individual tales – no matter how similar publishing products might seem to us now on the digitised surface.2 So even while analogue publishing considers whether it will finally slip permanently into a digital disguise, the enduring creative constant, the original cultural purpose - the publication of the human mind – remains intact.
As the print book process through a volatile age of analogue-digital media convergence, it faces questions once asked of stone tablets, clay, wood boards, the papyrus scroll and the vellum codex. Can it, should it survive? The book is the first mass medium, remaining in essence the same as it has always been throughout five hundred years of print history.
In overall design it is still remarkably close to the original codex, the object its inventor created when sewing vellum pages to a leather spine two millennia ago in the ancient era of oar-driven boats, togas and temples. The demise of the printed book is a cultural shift, a paradigm change of epic proportions.
Twentieth-century methods and trends in books, newspapers, vinyl records, celluloid films transformed culture and lives. Digital content creation methods and multi-purpose digital display devices are doing the same in the twenty-first century. The world is currently imbedded in a digital software and hardware-led race towards the incredibly shrinking appliance. Every year digital proves itself cheaper, smaller, lighter, and easier to use.
Consumption of media content has also changed before our eyes, it is now commonplace for an ordinary episode of a so-so TV series on an average mid-week night’s viewing to be seen ‘by more people’ than all the readers of ‘a book on the fiction bestseller list’. ‘Will we wake up one day to find that the print book has disappeared entirely? Or, in truth, is the current debate over the death of print just another empty prediction, pushed and led by proponents of another over-hyped media cliché, this one called digital convergence?
Even as little as 40 years ago, content media from different spheres led separate lives. Each medium was a discreet enterprise. It often took years for material from one medium to find its way to another. With the spread of digital media today, producers inside one vertically integrated media conglomerate can orchestrate diverse media content into patterns of integrated media sales.
The print book so far has resisted the digital onslaught. How long it can continue to survive in its present form remains book publishing’s most asked question. Supporters of the paper book believe that today’s siphoning of digitized content into e-readers, down broadband cables and on to mobile telephones, adds up to readers losing something culturally precious. Many readers, music lovers and cinephiles want to be just that – not digital media consumers.