The Threshold of Pain

There’s been a great deal of discussion here at TKZ as well as on other blogs and forums about the changes taking place in the publishing industry. Most of it revolves around the rapid emergence and popularity of e-books and electronic publishing, and how it’s affecting traditional publishing. The industry as a whole appears liquid and seems to be changing almost by the day. Many of us are trying to find a stable place to stand as the ground shakes around us.

I don’t have any solutions to present here today. If I did, they would probably be outdated by the time I post my next blog. But I do have some observations.

For over 20 years, I worked in the video postproduction industry. During that time, one of the biggest advances in television and motion picture production was the advent of digital technology. Before high definition digital video, the only way to capture high quality images was on film. Even for personal home use, there was nothing better than standard 35mm film (some formats in the professional arena were larger sizes). For decades, no one envisioned that high quality images could be captured and delivered on any other format than film. (Note that film is still far greater resolution than high definition video). Even with its inherent grain, its ability to attract dirt, its somewhat fragile, easily damaged surface, and its constant weave and jitter through the projection system’s gate, it was as good as it can get. No other image delivery method could match film.

Today, most major motion pictures are still shot on film due mainly to the fact that film, unlike video, has much wider latitude and dynamic range, and still has the highest resolution available. But the image delivery system is changing. Now, original negative is transferred from film to video and color corrected within the digital domain. It is then projected in digital format rather than analog. Instead of individual frames passing through the gate of a projector, the images are retrieved from a hard drive or transmitted via satellite and projected electronically in resolutions up to 4k. It’s called digital cinema. No more scratches and weave, no more prints wearing out or film breaking. The thousandth time the movie is projected, it looks exactly like the first time.

Has the movie-going experience been hurt by digital cinema? No. In fact, it’s been enhanced beyond what the audience even realizes. The image is rock solid, crystal clear, and comes with multiple channels of digital audio for a totally entertaining experience. In most viewers eyes, it’s better than film.

How does this relate to analog vs. digital books? We must remember that what readers get when they purchase a book is a container holding our writing. Just like film and digital files can contain the same images, analog and digital books can hold the same words. An analog or printed book is simply a delivery vessel—something that contains our words and delivers them to our readers.

Remember Kodachrome film? It was first manufactured in 1935 and quickly became the most popular method of capturing and delivering images to the casual photographer. Eastman Kodak canceled production in 2009. Why? Because digital cameras had finally surpassed film as the most popular method of taking pictures. No one was buying Kodachrome anymore. But pictures were still being taken. Only now, the delivery system—the container—is digital files.

Could that happen to books? Maybe. And if it does, it probably will take a long time. After all, it took Kodachrome 74 years to die. But I hold to the theory of the “threshold of pain”. When something new comes along—let’s call it a widget—the first adapters must experience a certain amount of pain in order to try it. As the widget is further developed, refined and perfected, the pain starts to diminish. As the pain continues to decrease, more customers migrate to the widget because they learn of its pleasures and are willing to tolerate or ignore any remaining pain. At some point, the negatives along with the price dips below the threshold of pain, and the widget is embraced by the majority of the audience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Here’s an example. Six years ago, I bought a 60” Sony HD TV. They were mostly available in high-end electronics boutiques. Top resolution was 720p. It cost me over $5k. There was a lot of pain in my wallet and the fact that it took months to get any kind of HD into my home. Today, I can get the same size screen at 1080p resolution at Wal-Mart for less than half the price. Hardly any pain. A whole lot of pleasure. And HD TV’s are as common as toaster ovens. The TV is a delivery system. What it delivers is images—or more specific, entertainment.

I believe that as a delivery system, analog books can be replaced if the replacement brings the user more pleasure than pain. If the reading experience is as good or better than analog. If they are reasonably priced. Easy to read from. Easy to use. Massive storage. Unlimited battery life. Unlimited selection of books. Scratch-‘n-sniff paper smell. OK, that last pleasure is future-ware.

Are e-books the answer? I don’t know. But what has happened is that due to the economy, competition, and a shifting marketplace, the electronic publishing flood gates have begun to open. A lot of new widgets are flowing out. The one thing they all have in common is that they are delivery systems. But what they deliver will never change. Our words. Our art.

Are you an early adaptor who likes living on the bleeding edge of technology? Or do you sit back and let others be the lab rats before you pull out your wallet and head over to Wal-Mart?

Out with the old . . .

Happy New Year to everyone! With the arrival of a new decade, one thing is obvious: technology is moving at light speed. What was hot just a few years or even months ago is old and obsolete today. It used to be that early adaptors lived on the bleeding edge. Now the bleeding edge barely starts to hemorrhage before something new comes along. It took a long time for things like VHS tapes, over-the-air analog television, and dial-up Internet connections to be given a decent burial. In today’s environment of wireless streaming video, smart phones, Wi-Fi, and e-readers, we really have to pick and choose, and do our research to hang on to something for any length of time.

But my post isn’t about tomorrow’s innovations; it’s about those warm-and-fuzzy things we grew up with that are either on the trash heap or on a fast track to oblivion.

stamp Let’s start with postage stamps. OK, I know, you just used them to send out your Christmas cards. And like me, you got a lot of cards delivered by the mailman. But this Holiday Season, I received more e-cards than traditional Hallmarks. As a matter of fact, quite a few were Hallmark e-cards. With texting and email, who buys rolls of stamps anymore?

Next comes faxing. It used to be that faxing was the only way to instantly get an important document from point A to point B. Well, not quit instantly since sometimes you got a busy signal or the recipient’s machine was out of paper or you programmed the wrong number and set it for after hours delivery and there was a guy in Indiana whose phone kept ringing and he wanted to hold you under the water until the bubbles stopped. But it was fairly quick and reliable. Today, just scan the document and email it as a PDF attachment. Cost? Next to nothing. Faxing is as dead as your New Years ham.

When was the last time you actually opened that huge, dictionary-size copy of the Yellow Pages? With Google, Internet Yellow and White pages, all those books do is kill trees. Then they clog up the landfill. Aren’t you glad you’re not a Yellow Pages advertising salesman?

Ten years ago I wrote dozens of checks a month to pay bills and buy stuff. Today I average maybe one a month. With online banking, PayPal, and Quicken, writing checks is right up there with listening to music on AM radio. There is still AM radio, right?

Video rentals made Blockbuster a blockbuster business. Then came Netflix, the Blockbuster killer. Then came Red Box, the Netflix killer. Then came Blockbuster Express the . . . well, being reactive instead of proactive in the tech world means you have one foot in the grave. Soon, wireless, on-demand, streaming 1080p video will kill them all including DVD and Blu-ray. I guess after that, we’ll just have to think of a movie and it will appear in our heads. BTW, watch for no-glasses-required 3D television coming soon to a Best Buy near you.

Picture a large group of big heavy books with matching covers that took up a complete shelf in your office. They were called encyclopedias. Remember the last time you went to find information in an encyclopedia? Me neither. By the time it would take me to pull the book from the shelf, I can find the answer online from 100+ sources.

Aren’t you glad you’re not an encyclopedia salesman? Or a fax machine salesman? Or work in a video rental store?

And I saved the best for last. Newspapers. I know I’ll get a lot of “you’re crazy” comments on that one. I’ll be honest, I love reading the newspaper while sipping my coffee each morning just like everyone else. But let’s face it, folks, printing newspapers and having them delivered by some guy in a noisy little POS car at 5:00 AM no longer makes for a profitable business model. Some have already fallen. There will be more in the new decade.

Technology marches on. Today it’s marching so fast, that it’s hard to keep up. So don’t get too attached to that latest gadget. You might be trying to sell it on eBay tomorrow and no one even meets your reserve price.

Here’s a final thought about technology: "640K ought to be enough for anybody." — Bill Gates, 1981

is there anything you can think of that is on it’s way out the door in 2010?