Paradigm shift: $1 versus $2

Posted February 14, 2006

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attenting a talk given by Cory Doctorow, sci-fi author and internet freedom-fighter. At MIT he was mainly preaching to the choir, of course, so his talk was interesting without being revolutionary. However, he did drop at least one nugget of info that I hadn't run across before, one with profound implications.

Check out this interview with Brewster Kahle sometime about the digital Bookmobile project, a mobile print-on-demand library.

But all you need to know, and all Cory had to drop to make me sit up in my seat, is this factoid: the cost to print a book on demand is now about $1... the cost for a library to lend and reshelve a book is about $2. Ponder that for a second. Due to the onrush of technology versus the relatively static pace of human labor capacity, it can now be cheaper for libraries to give books away than to ask for them back. The innate copyability of bits is coming to the dead-tree world.

Speaking as a volunteer librarian myself, and moreover as one who is constantly trying to stack books higher and higher in limited space on the off-chance someone will want to borrow one... this change can't come too soon.

If only the copyright laws were ready for it.