Tech vs. Trees: Stephen King keeps it physical, Facebook flirts with paper, iPad gets the blame

LOS ANGELES , May 31, 2012 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word.

Trees: Stephen King keeps it physical with new novel 

Stephen King has opted to offer his next novel, Joyland, only in paperback, bucking the publishing industry shift to all things digital for everything from classics to celebrity tell-alls (see below). According to a BBC News article, King said, "I loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we're going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being." Nostalgia could mean a small victory for paper makers depending on the popularity of his next novel due out in June and more so if he influences others to follow his lead. Curiously, King was an early pioneer of digital publishing as he released Riding on a Bullet online in 2000 only to have it posted on the Internet for free a few hours after its release, the BBC reported.

Tech: Move over Johannes Guttenberg

A rash of announcements in the past few weeks gives further momentum to the burgeoning e-book market. Classics as varied as Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Walter Lord's account of the titanic disaster A Night to Remember, and S.E. Hinton’s 1965 young adult novel The Outsiders became available in May in tree-free format. Some publishers plan to forgo dead-tree editions of books altogether. Open Road Media will publish an “e-riginal” memoir by actor Kirk Douglass about the making of his 1960 film, Spartacus, in June – the latest in a series of straight-to-digital books released by the e-publisher. Open Road Media has also launched digital versions of three books by feminist writer Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words and Revolution from Within. Steinem announced the news on her Facebook page, saying “Ebooks may be the biggest democratization of books since Gutenberg invented the printing press!”

Tech + Trees: Facebook flirts with paper for IPO but backtracks

Although Facebook indicated that it would offer paper stock certificates in its initial public offering of shares the social media giant reversed course and scrapped the print option, according to a CNNMoney article. In doing so, Facebook joins other Fortune 500 companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and Intel, in going paperless for stock certificates. However, operators of two stock-sale websites and saw a demand for such paper proofs of ownership and won the company’s OK to issue keepsake certificate facsimiles.

Trees: Paper gets boost from literary phenomena

On the heels of Harry Potter, Twilight, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series and Hunger Games, the latest literary phenomenon the Fifty Shades series has topped 10 million in sales and is still going strong, according to publisher Random House. That 10 million includes e-books and audio books, but also takes paperbacks into account. For paper producers, a literary phenomenon could mean a shift toward different grades of paper, not just a shift to digital. For example, the Weyerhaeuser/Nippon Paper joint-owned Norpac mill in Longview, Washington, has shifted from producing mostly newsprint to book paper thanks to the success of the Twilight series, Hunger Games and the Dan Brown novels.

Tech: iPad becomes face of print-to-digital woes

Paper companies and related businesses have long cited the print-to-digital trend as a major factor for financial losses and other woes. But paper machine maker Voith Paper has specifically named the iPad in announcing that it would cut 710 jobs in Germany and Austria. According to the company’s news release: “… the ongoing digitalization of everyday life through tablets like the iPad and the ensuing changes in consumer behavior is faster than expected having a negative impact on the demand for so-called graphic papers.” In the same release, Voith also projected that the market for paper machines would continue to grow in Asia in the longer term, suggesting that the outcome of the tech vs. trees struggle is not (yet) a foregone conclusion.

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