Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Dramatic Changes in Publishing

When I started in the newspaper business during the summer of 1964, the industry's technology wasn't much different than it had been more than a century before when Mark Twain was a young printer's devil.

Like Twain (whose adventures are detailed in a good book titled Printer's Devil: Mark Twain and the Publishing Revolution by Bruce Michelson, $34.95 at, I started as an apprentice at the end of an era when being an apprentice was still an option. My experience was not directly with the printing end of the business, but I was close enough to observe it first-hand and to understand that it had changed very little in the half millennium since movable type was invented by Johann Gutenberg in 1439.

The next significant leap in technology came when the Linotype (pictured) was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1839. The primary difference between that machine and the ones I worked around for several years (125 years later) was that electricity was added to help melt the lead. The Linotype (line of type: get it?) set type mechanically; type had been individually assembled by hand before the Linotype existed. When I was young, some type (that larger than 30 point) was still set letter by letter in a separate part of the composing room and delivered to the page forms to be placed properly with the other type.

That was the prevailing technology until the 1970s when we went to "cold type," which was printed stories that were trimmed and pasted onto a master page, then photographed and a mold made from that for the press. It was meticulous, but a lot quiter and cleaner.

We talked about "pagination" in the 1970s in the same sense people in the 1930s discussed going to the moon or replacing bad hearts. But it finally showed up for real in the 1990s and the claim in 'Printer's Devil' that printing changed more during Twain's lifetime than ever before or since was rendered to be a significant stretch of the truth. Pagination today means designing the publication on a computer screen and sending that design via electronic impulse to the printer whose printing technique is as different from lead type as flying is from walking.

At the Valley Business FRONT--our new magazine that is two issues old ('re already talking about removing paper from our process because people's reading habits are changing daily. We go online 10 days to two weesk before we show up in the mail box and we are getting a lot of positive response from that.

I don't, for example, read a newspaper that I can hold in my hands these days, though I read several papers each day. Reading online is cleaner, quicker and much more up-to-the-minute. I can read it at my own pace and my own leisure. It's more envirnomentally friendly (no trees destroyed, no ink in our water supply) and it eliminates two of our higher costs: printing and postage.

Publishing has always been an industry of change, never more so than now.

It's coming, the all-electronic world; bank on that. The number of publications that will be available strictly on the Internet is already becoming significant. It won't be long before they're the majority. And we want to be in that wave--near the front of it, not at the back.

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