Post-Print

I happened to pick up a complete issue of the New York Times paper edition yesterday and I had a strange, disconcerting experience. I suppose you could call it déjà vu, but I think it’s slightly different, slightly more explicable than that…

I had given up my daily subscription to the Times two years ago, subsisting now as a “Weekender” and the truth is, I am paying $3.45 a week for the New York Times Magazine, since that’s the only section I really read. The rest, as they say, is “fish wrap.”

All other days, and even weekends, therefore, my daily experience with the Times is through its superb digital online product. So there I was, waiting in the hallway of my office, waiting for Ryan to come in since I had left my keys inside in my rush to leave the day before, and, bored, I picked up the newspaper someone had left for recycling, fully intact. After scanning the front page for a second, I realized that I had seen each of these headlines the day before online.

I hadn’t read each article, of course, but as I flipped further, I thought to myself, “So that’s where they put that article, and oh, I didn’t realize that one got the entire front page of the business section!” It was like someone had come in and re-arranged all of the furniture in my apartment, with different priorities and a different sense of order.

And one of the beauties of this post-digital encounter was that I stumbled on a fascinating article which hadn’t been on the “most e-mailed” list and it was a blip in the parade of articles on the homepage that day. But there it was, front and center on the business section:

googlepaper

Google in the paper

Google, the online giant, had been sued in federal court by a large group of authors and publishers who claimed that its plan to scan all the books in the world violated their copyrights.

As part of the class-action settlement, Google will pay $125 million to create a system under which customers will be charged for reading a copyrighted book, with the copyright holder and Google both taking percentages; copyright holders will also receive a flat fee for the initial scanning, and can opt out of the whole system if they wish.

But first they must be found.

The article was about Google’s campaign to satisfy the terms of this class-action settlement, payback, if you will, for attempting to scan and offer digitally every book in the universe, to compensate the authors and copyright holders for this use of their “property”. The irony was that, in order to achieve this, Google was taking out half page ads in newspapers all over the world, an undertaking only Google could pull off.

Fancy, that: Google having to use paper to distribute information.

It just goes to show: print is going to recalibrate itself from what it used to do (everything from phone books to news to long texts to novels) to focus on what it does really well in a digital, networked world (not hyper-fresh news, not phone books, on-demand magazines and books, and information distribution off the grid).

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