Sunday, April 12, 2009

Paper - the great distribution tool

Read a fascinating short article in the first issue of UK Wired about "the papernet". Aaron Straup Cope's idea is to use paper as a customisable output medium (which of course, with the personal printer it already is). The concept as I understand it is to take the printers of today, even our print-on-demand technologies, and remove ourselves from the tyranny of the mass-produced edition. Perhaps with the right combination of software, networks and hardware, we could return to the days of the engravers and book producers of the middle ages; each copy "handmade", but not in its format, but in its content. Think of the XML/CSS distinction between content and appearance and apply that to the book. This is what already happens - you deliver your copy in some form to a publisher/printer - and it becomes typeset and formatted into a book. Turn that round... and every copy of a book from Lulu or other print on demand firms could be the latest bespoke edition (which is why its popular with producers of computer software manuals), rather than an identical copy. Take that further though, and put a filter on before you create your PDF to upload - let the user choose what to include in their particular edition... - or better still install a network printer in a gallery or a bookshop and use a software interface to provide however many pages of bespoke information. There's some really funky little photo printers and similar available nowadays, as well as more pro- machines, and what we need is a simply formatting software, to enable us to make books from our RSS feeds, or PDFs from our Facebook pages. Then, better still, the fabled monkeys with typewriters, replaced with a series of artists with laptops, formatting pages that come together in a book of ever changing complexity or randomness. The collaborative webpage redone as a paper-based wiki.

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