Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Technology Substitution in Publishing: Part 1 - Introduction

Information technologies (hardware and software) are playing a key role in innovations in industry after industry. They diffuse through an industry by improving procedures, processes and products. The diffusion usually begins with incremental changes aimed at improving costs, or more broadly, efficiency. This is like a virus infecting a living cell, the informed or informatized (we don’t have good language to describe the result) is transformed into something new. Informed segments of the economy then multiply their effects on the industry radically changing it or destroying it.

The publication industry is one of the industries being so affected. Information technologies have found their way into the processes of printing books, their distribution, the way they are sold, and even the way we communicate about the books. Now information technology is altering the very nature of publications, especially in the textbooks and supplemental materials used in K-12 education. And, now the information technologies developed to aid social change and societal development have begun to impact the industry, threatening to destroy it.

This series of eight blog entries summarizes the meta research done on the industry searching for data that indicates the nature and rate of substitution of information technologies into print. There are two overall conclusions from this study. First, that there are indications of the substitution going on in a number of areas. And, second, that we lack a coherent set of data on the industry that would enable us to make firm predictions.

Substitution analysis is a well accepted method of technological forecasting in use for 36 years. In these analyses, the Fisher-Pry model was used. The Fisher-Pry model predicts characteristics loosely analogous to those of biological system growth. It results in a S-curve (more formally, sigmoidal curve) familiar to many because the curve is in the shape of an S. These natural growth processes share the properties of relatively slow early change, followed by steep growth, then a turnover as size asymptotically approaches a limit.

The Fisher-Pry substitution model is often used to analyze a substitution like electronic for print media in the reference library. The relationship between the fraction of total market taken by the new technology, f, is often given as:

f = 1 /(1 + c exp(-bt))

where t is time, and c and b are empirically determined coefficients.

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