From printing press to ... What will the future of the book be?

Posted by Saad Abughazaleh

shutterstock_112044239We offer unified communications solutions, so it should come as no surprise that we whole-heartedly welcome technological advancements. Well, most of them, that is. But there are some things whose very existence is threatened with extinction due to the leaps and bounds of innovation that are happening left and right these days. One of these endangered species - the printed book - is something we care deeply about, and so we thought we'd take this post to ask the important question, "What exactly is going to happen to the book in the future?"

Once upon a time, printing was a laborious process
It's 1639. The pre​-revolutionary streets of New England are bustling with activity, and all of it surrounds the establishment of the North American colonies' first printing press. Called The Cambridge Press, the establishment was primarily used for the creation and dissemination of religious texts. The fact that the press was located in the United States gave authors a degree of autonomy they couldn't have enjoyed if outsourcing printing to England. At the time, printing a book in the colonies was not only fraught with risk - the publication of proactive or revolutionary texts could spell trouble for the printer - but also exceedingly laborious. Here's just a few of the steps that were necessary to get a single book to press, courtesy of AbeBooks:

  1. Set the type for the individual page you want to print. That means meticulously setting every single letter so it's just right. 
  2. Take two "ink bulbs" - they look like exactly that - and cover them in ink. Then run those over to the type you've just set and cover it with ink. Don't rush this step - pat instead of smear.
  3. Have you made sure every letter is fastened in place? You might want to do that now, because if not, the whole thing's going to fall apart as soon as you put any pressure on your page.
  4. Put paper in a slot above the place where the letters are set.
  5. Time for the pressurizer - or the "devil's tail." Once you turn this thing, there's no going back. Misspelled something? Forgot a period? Learn to live with it, or live through the whole process again.
  6. OK, you've completed all these steps. Congrats! You have one single page. Just do this 400 more times and you've got a single book.

What does the future hold for the book?
There are few literary purists so trapped in the past that they'd actually advocate a total return to the printing presses of old. That said, there is something decidedly sad about the departure from printing as art to printing as commercial endeavor. But hey, at least we still have books. Or do we? 

These days, it can't be taken for granted that the age of the printed book will continue indefinitely. As The American pointed out back in 2011, Amazon reported that its eBook sales were outstripping those of traditional printed texts. Does that mean that the book as we know it is being slowly usurped? Not necessarily. As the article suggests, the market for printed books, while it may experience reductions, is not likely to disappear, since it's something we're still very culturally attached to. For instance, just because people have TV screens that rival movie theaters these days, has that stopped Guardians of the Galaxy from conquering, well, the galaxy?

Here at Fonality, we know one reason why books should stay around: Because it's really not fun to be on the beach "turning" the "pages" of your Kindle.