Liza Daly 2009 In Review: Moving From If to How

Liza Daly is the owner of Threepress Consulting, a technology company servicing the publishing and educational industries and was last seen peering warmly at you from our BNC Tech Forum banner on the right.

My desk tells one part of the story of publishing in 2009: it’s littered with devices. Dedicated e-ink readers, netbooks, mobile phones, and of course the all-time most popular ereader, the computer. I could use some more USB ports, and a bigger desk. My 2010 budget already has allocations for the Apple Tablet and the PlasticLogic QUE, and that’s just Q1.

Most of the devices on my desk are already obsolete despite being practically brand-new. And progress isn’t always continuous forward evolutionthere are many ways in which that old Sony Reader is superior to the brand-new Nook. The QUE, which seemed to be beamed in from the future when it was hyped in 2008, may be anemic next to whatever Apple’s going to offer.

So much technology to deliver the humble book. It’s one of the earliest forms of persistent human communication yet one of the last to go digital commercially. 2009 saw serious consolidation down to three formatsPDF, ePub and Mobipocketand that’s been good for consumers and publishers alike. Everyone but (perhaps) Amazon would like to see that number decline even further, but there are signs it’s already going back up: the Kurzweil Blio uses its own format, based on PDF, and Apple may do the same.

That would be too bad, as the healthiest change I saw in 2009 was publishers moving from basic questions like, “Should we make ebooks?” to thoughtful debates about implementing video, better use of hyperlinking and indexing, and exploration of new distribution channels.

Most of all, my hope for 2010 is that the rush to larger screens and movie-like interactivity doesn’t leave behind the greatest beneficiaries of the ebook revolution: the print-disabled and the billions who don’t have access to big box stores and $800 tablets. Low-bandwidth, standards-driven formats still hold a lot of promise, and while it’s okay to obsolete a device, we must not do the same for people.