The Telegraph
Friday , February 14 , 2014
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The developments in printing and communications technology, that took place in the last decade has changed the norms of publishing drastically. However, these changes in technology have several upsides as well as downsides. The evolution in printing technology has helped not only by speeding up the production process of books but has also improved the typographical standards and layouts significantly.

However, this improvement in technology has several downsides as well. First, consensus on editorial standards has become hard to achieve. Second, since it is far easier with the development of technology to produce and package books, even mediocre works are getting published easily. Also, the number of titles published has increasingly become more important to the publishing houses, even at the expense of quality of the books. The computer-aided technology is widely available and has made it possible to publish greater number of books.

This was not always the case. Success was once measured by assessing the sales and returns at the end of every quarter, till the stocks lasted. But now the publishers tend to adopt the philosophy of the old shot-gun approach. One is expected to fire a number of pellets and sooner or later one hopes one would hit something.

At this juncture one needs to ask some pertinent questions: first, can there be a course-correction by publishing material that has relevance to the concerned market? Second, is it possible for publishers to create a steady supply of manuscripts without compromising on editorial quality?

With new technologies, like Desktop Publishing, that have virtually revolutionized typesetting for books and the corresponding printing processes, it is extremely difficult to cut back on the minimum number of new titles required if the machines are to be fully utilized. Manuscripts have to be created which means many new authors have to be commissioned to keep the machines running even if it leads to lowered standards.

Publishers have reached a point of compromise. It has become an accepted fact that the ratio between the good and the mediocre books will be around 1:5. The good ones sell out and has to be reprinted. Publishers are not the creators but are only facilitators who bring authors and printers together to feed the market. So they do not have much choice in this regard. The new technologies help to produce books quicker and at more competitive rates. Old technologies are fast phasing out as they cannot meet the necessary standards.

Technologies are constantly being upgraded and the creative department cannot compete with it. There has not been a steady in the number of good authors. Upgrading technology involves a process which is mechanical. But writing is a slower and more creative process that takes time. If rushed, as is often done nowadays, it can result in hack writing. The publishers cannot do anything but make the books look more presentable with a little help from the designers. This is a trick that works out at times.

Publishers have little choice except to take what comes and then polish it. But this ‘polishing’ often takes time that cancels out the advantages the new technology has to offer. Sadly, there is little that publishers can do except casting their net wider and roping in authors who have not yet been commissioned. This often means that the publishing houses have to give a chance to lesser known authors who are writing in up-market journals here and abroad.