Christoffel Plantin in Cyberspace

Mise en abyme: a miniature version of this website as an illustration that a text should also be made available in a digital form by an author, printer or publisher (personal picture)

Future printer-publisher: Conclusions

Christoffel Plantin was only too aware of the fact that a printer-publisher had to take into account these specific and special properties of digital texts. For one thing, he had to issue every new text also digitally at least. The electronic file of the text was primary and the physical version only secondary. He had to manage content differently as well because information was used in another way than in the past. Nowadays it was rather mined than read. The implication was that data had to be structured, queries logical and search engines automated, so that information feeds would match the information needs. A printer-publisher was no longer chiefly a manufacturer whose task it was to reproduce and distribute identical copies on a large scale in a fast and cheap way, but a service provider who was responsible for selecting, editing, collecting and marketing of as many texts as possible. He just had to make the text available to the public and the public would then take care of the duplication and circulation. The writer for his part was still responsible for the creative act. Lulu.com, a virtual company on the internet, took advantage of the need to make texts generally known and had come up with a system so that everyone could have his text published as an e-book or a traditional book. The writer simply decided if he wanted to make use of the editorial, promotional or other services and at which price he wanted to sell his book in exchange for a certain amount of each copy sold. The notion that the writer, instead of the reader, had to foot the bill of the publication was taken even further by Open Access where a scientist paid money to make an article available so that the reader could be given free access to the information. The movement, founded in part in protest against the ever rising subscription rates of the (electronic) scientific journals, started from the idea that academic information was not a commercial asset, but a common good that had to be available and accessible to everyone. No matter which digital file could be downloaded and no matter which digital text could be viewed and read anywhere and anytime on an e-reader like iRex Technologies’s iLiad, Sony’s LIBRIé or Amazon’s Kindle. If necessary and if wished, the file could be sent to a digital printer and turned into a printed text or a physical book. Printing on demand, as this proces was called, was actually a hybrid, analog-digital, technology, but it still had quite a few advantages. First and foremost, production was easy: a first print run was already possible at low quantities and supply and demand could be balanced so that a publication was more likely to appear commercially. Next, printing could easily be done locally so that a book could be made anywhere in the world without transportation costs or loss of time.