The Printed Word: a shrinking footprint
Outside Forces: The ability of some portion of the online audience to be satisfied with pure content, be it Google Books or material from other providers, seems already established; the path to its wider use and acceptance now subject only to three variables; more content; easier, more intuitive software; and increasing public awareness. Its emergence alters the value of printed material in unpredictable ways because it will change the way people collect. That said, it will both encourage collecting by exposing hidden connections, but also eliminate the need to own a copy if information is the only goal. Overall it seems a great positive for the hundreds of thousands, if not ultimately millions of unappreciated items that will gain visibility. That said, it will take a self-directed collecting approach, that will have to be learned, to unearth them.
Collecting, as do all things, changes and if the confederation of markets, services and adherents, of which it is a part, are to prosper the relationship between collecting and other sectors of the book, manuscript and ephemera field will need to change. Today the field exists to support sellers who sell to libraries and collectors. The market in the future will more serve collectors. It will have no choice. Libraries, as the primary repositories of rare and important material, have peaked. Within these institutions battles will rage but the dollars, euros, and pounds over time are going to shift to funding the complex electronic presentations that will both open more material to broader access and also reduce the library's need to provide physical access. Such collections are already rarely visited. Many will inevitably be dispersed, traded or transferred.
New thinking is required.