Future of CDROM, DVD, etc.

Andrew K. Rindsberg arindsberg at GSA.STATE.AL.US
Fri Apr 28 15:58:51 CDT 2000

Robin Leech writes, 'If you think books are too expensive in California,
try here in Canada. ...'

Well, as I said, there's this inconvenient transitional period to survive
before electronic media become reliable enough to substitute and even
supplant paper. Here is a case study of a serial caught in transition.

I co-edit an annual newsletter of 162 pages. It can't be longer than 162
pages, because otherwise it would weigh more than half a kilogram and cost
a lot more to mail from Poland. It's reproduced in Poland partly because my
coeditor Alfred Uchman lives there and partly because photocopying costs
are half what they are in the US. Mailing costs are actually a little more
expensive in Poland than in the US, but since most of the subscribers are
European, it's cheaper to mail it from Poland.

We encourage international participation in the newsletter, and charge only
the cost of materials and mailing, but many potential subscribers are
aghast when they discover that international banking fees can be up to
twice the cost of the newsletter itself. It's still cheap compared to the
amount of information packed into those 162 pages, but people don't like a
surcharge of 200 percent, particularly when it goes to the banks (I'd
rather pay the Canadian government, Robin!). So it should surprise no one
on this list to hear that many of our subscribers, including 'rich' North
Americans as well as Brazilians and Chinese, wait almost a year for the Web
version. This is posted by a volunteer (Anthony J. Martin) who has the
expertise and a lot of resources at his university, but who has few windows
in his busy schedule.

The people who buy the paper version are those who use the newsletter
frequently as a desk reference for addresses, bibliography, meeting dates,
etc.; those who are not computer-literate or who have to pay exorbitantly
for Web use; and those who just like paper. But every year the situation
seems more bizarre and distorted to me. So many decisions were made because
of restrictions placed on paper media that are absent in electronic media:
photocopying costs, mailing costs. And other distorted decisions were made
because we do not all have the same equipment for electronic communication.

The newsletter is edited electronically and most of the material is
contributed electronically. It could be distributed electronically at zero
cost, with extra information, without delay, and without the editors
worrying whether banks will accept foreign checks, copies being late or
lost in the mail, etc. In fact, we could dispense with paper copies and
Website alike if all of our subscribers had email and the email systems and
software were compatible. To say "They aren't" is an understatement.

Standardization is a wonderful thing. As I said before, we have to survive
this inconvenient transitional period first. Till then, welcome to the Holy
Roman Empire of electronics!

Andrew K. Rindsberg
Geological Survey of Alabama

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