This has to be the world’s stupidest publishing idea

A friend pointed me to this the other day. Someone’s come up with a way for print to compete with e-books.

“Hmmn…books. New fangled rubbish. They’ll never replace scrolls, you know”.

How? According to the report, they print the book in disappearing ink. Apparently that will FORCE the customer to read it quickly before their purchase becomes a worthless paperweight.

We have a saying about that in New Zealand. Yeah, right.

To me this is like bath towels for goldfish. For some of us, the pleasure of books includes having that tower unread by the bedside – in anticipation. To be savoured. Not gobbled down before it disappears.

Personally I think e-book and print publishing are both ways of the future. Together. Each has their own strengths. And one advantage a book has over any e-product, just now, is permanence. Books printed on acid-free paper last for centuries, if they’re properly stored. Dye-process DVD’s, magnetic media and silicon storage – well, the jury’s out, but signs are they’re only good for years or decades. In fact, the physics indicate that the denser your storage, the faster it decays (I just LURRRVE that Second Law of Thermodynamics). Then there’s that niggly issue of software to interpret the data.

Archivists have already learned the hard way that keeping computer data is a race against decaying media and changing standards. So we’ve already got ‘disappearing e-books’, if we’re not careful. Lost software can be fixed with talent and money. And science may offer answers to the storage physics as time goes on – but not just now (and you can’t beat thermodynamics, not ever  – only hold it off locally with even more energy.) As for deliberately printing a book in disappearing ink? That’s just dumb. What do you think?

*** Don’t forget – if you want to win a copy of my new book Convicts – published by Penguin and signed by me – check out this contest. Runs until 28 July 2012.***

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

13 thoughts on “This has to be the world’s stupidest publishing idea

  1. I have a theory that if we transmit all data to the moon onto a mirror at exactly the right angle to reflect it back to another mirror on Earth which reflects it back and forth to two other mirrors – we can keep that data flow forever! (Not sure how we access the data or what happens if one of the mirrors breaks, but hey, it’s a work in progress!!). 🙂


  2. Double dumb if you ask me. Mills & Boon perhaps (surely no-one reads them twice), but anything else? And what about sharing? Trilogies for example: I buy book one and lend to my daughter, who is impressed and buys all three.


    1. Exactly! I really have no idea what these people were thinking. And what happens if the book takes a few months to be shipped and sold – does it vanish before the customer gets it?


      1. I believe that until the sealed packaging was broken and the pages exposed to air, the degradation of the ink would be arrested. But a similar idea has already been tried with rental DVDs that would essentially degrade to uselessness after a couple of weeks (recalling wildly here) and you’d think the abject failure of THAT brainwave would serve as a signal.

        Recycling those books would be a breeze though. Just make the pages sufficiently soft and absorbent, and once they’re blank…


  3. I can see how a book with disappearing ink could make for an interest one off gimmick to sell a spy novel or something, but other than that what a joke!

    Digital storage really does seem to be a nightmare waiting for future archivists. This is something that I’ve already seen happen in the film industry. The only format that seems to have lasted the test of time is film. If stored well it can last for centuries, but many more recent analogue video formats are all but extinct and digital formats are being superseded at an even faster rate which I suspect will cause all kinds of problems in the future.

    I’m probably a little old fashioned but I think the same is true for print. I don’t want to see my library destroyed by one little virus, or locked up thanks to a cloud storage company going bankrupt or being seized by the FBI etc. Even if Apple and Amazon go bust or a Coronal Mass Ejection takes out the power grids for a year then I will still be able to read my books!


    1. Absolutely agree. There is something about the tactility of print books, too, which ebooks don’t quite manage to repeat. A value to the experience. And there is nothing quite like having a bookcase full of real books – call it art, call it furniture; but I don’t think it can be beaten. Funnily enough, Robert A. Heinlein predicted exactly this in the 1950s in his ‘Space Family Stone’.

      Call me old fashioned, too, but ‘analogue’ as a recording medium has a wamrth and life about it that digital simply doesn’t capture – especially the MP3 format which is data-lossy anyway. The physics of why this is so are sound. too (ahem, no pun intended).


      1. A proper archiving policy must, in the long term, have a replication strategy that continually rolls older media over into newer forms. There is no magic bullet.

        It can be worse though. There’s a lot of BBC material from the late 1950s and early 1960s that was simply thrown out because there was no space for storage – the only copies in existence in many cases – and videotape was blithely recorded over because it was so damn expensive.


  4. I wish I could remember where I read this, something about the perfect data storage medium; wouldn’t require an outside power source, lasted an indeterminate but length time period, didn’t need any special equipment to use, etc. The answer, of course, was the printed book.

    In support of your “last centuries” argument, being the bibliophiliac that I am, I was once browsing the stacks in the library of a university I attended. Just reading the titles and humming to myself. I came across a book with an odd binding and some other strange characteristics. It looked a little fragile, so I took the books on either side of it out, opened it gently…and was shocked to discover that I held in my hands a tome first published in 1612 that had somehow escaped the university’s rare book collection.

    Needless to say I made some brownie points with the chief librarian for my discovery.

    Vanishing print? I guess you could market it not only as a book but as a blank-page journal.


    1. It IS pretty funny… the inventors have their logic for it, but I can’t see it myself. I try to post something funny Mondays, the week seems to start better that way.


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