Call it the battle between atoms and bits: the struggle to find the proper tradeoff between physical objects and their encoded equivalents.
In other words, how much can the digital replace the material?
Do we really need to smear ink on dead trees to provide written records?
Can teleconferencing displace many of the meetings that have traditionally been done around the same literal table?
Hasnt the popularity of e-mail already led to urban legends about the U.S. Postal Service wanting to tax such messages to compensate for their supposed loss of business in transporting physical (snail) mail?
I subscribe to two major daily newspapers delivered to my computer, replacing the print versions that used to pile up on my desk. I receive online access to three weekly newsmagazines as a benefit of my print subscriptions, and have found myself relying far more on the electronic versions of each.
The ASQ Software Division had protracted discussions over
whether to move from mailing printed copies of its member
newsletter. By the end of this year that newsletter should
produced exclusively in electronic format.
Yet archival journals continue to face the perceptionon the part of authors and of those who evaluate those authorsthat only the material form constitutes a true publication.
Software Quality Professional has long had an online presence complementary to our print publication. We replicate all the departments and selected feature articles as well as post supplemental material that is available only at the Web site. Soon this journal will be published in fully equivalent print and electronic versions, with subscribers able to select either or both formats.
Of course digital replacement only makes sense if the underlying software is correct, dependable, and usable. We as quality professionals must do our job in order for the bits to be right and to be good enough to displace the atoms.
Budget constraints might cause publishers of print-only journals to limit page counts in order to control production and mailing costs. The economics are quite different in the digital world.
The cost to add 10 pages of content? Nominal. The incremental cost of providing that content to another hundredor thousandsubscribers? Practically zero.
Atoms or bits?
In many cases, bits win.