Saturday, 30 March 2013

Let's Save the Dead Tree Press

It is early morning, I am on a train speeding towards the capital for a day course at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincolns Inn Field. I have the paper copy of the latest edition of the British Medical Journal with me to read on the train. As with many journals now, there are a number of different ways one can consume the output of the BMJ, digitally on a computer or an IPad and the age old traditional paper version.
I have an IPad and the machine faithfully downloads the BMJ every week. I am not sure why but I hardly ever read it - I still prefer the paper version. I am no technophobe - on the contrary, compared to my peers I am very geeky. I am not sure whether this penchant for paper is because the IPad BMJ is not the greatest app on the planet (IMHO it urgently needs an upgrade) or whether I am old fashioned at heart and still enjoy handling paper. One often hears prognostications about the death of paper journals and newspapers. I cannot see it myself, not unless there is a dramatic change in the quality of the experience of reading from a device. Today, the one huge advantage of reading digital material over stuff on paper is the ease with which it can be shared - stuff that cannot be shared is obsolete in a blink of an eye and obsolescence equals death. As I read my paper BMJ,  I have come across stuff I would like to share but can't.
There is however a way now to make paper stuff shareable - the QR code. Just scan the code (which is printed on paper) with your phone and in a 3 or 4G instant you have the digital page on your browser which you can than share. In truth, many journals do use QR codes but usually have just one for the whole edition. Journals need to make more use of these infinitely available modern black and white marvels. Every single item that can be shared, whether it is a research article, editorial, item of news or even advert needs to have its own code. They could be the saviour of the paper industry.
Reading stuff on an smart phone or pad is common, reading paper is cool - that's the message we need to promulgate. I think I will contact all the editors of the paper journals I normally read to give them a piece of my mind- whether they will listen is something else although Fiona Godlee (BMJ ed) seems like a good egg!