El.pub Analytic Issue Number 1
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For the last thousand years information has been distributed on paper. Paper shortages have caused disruption to the publishing industry, notably during major wars. The high cost of paper and its equivalents (such as vellum) made books a luxury good in the pre-industrial age and limited the size of the market. As we move into the 21st century, electronic means of distributing information are replacing paper. The fledgling electronic publishing industry is currently suffering from a 'paper' shortage.
The modern equivalent of paper is bandwidth. Digital information, the strings of 1s and 0s that encode text, pictures and sounds, can be converted back to those human-readable forms once it is delivered to the reader. Bandwidth is a measure of the delivery capacity. Unlike paper, bandwidth comes in a variety of forms. Some are visible (CD-ROMs), others are partly visible (with cable and telephone wire you can see the cover), others are invisible (satellite and wireless transmissions). They are all subject to restrictions. A CD-ROM has a fixed total capacity, like a book with a fixed number of pages. Lines and transmissions have restrictions on the number of pages per second that can be transmitted (kb/s).
We are all familiar with the consequences of restrictions on transmission capacity. For most of the last 50 years, radio and TV was broadcast on the open terrestrial frequencies. Within a given area (usually a country), the number of channels that could be fitted into the available spectrum limited the TV audience to a choice of about 4 programmes, and the radio audience to about 30. The development of fibre-optic cable and satellites has increased the bandwidth, so that there are more channels, but their introduction represents only an easing of the restrictions. Before digitisation, a TV cable service would carry about 30 channels and a satellite about 50 channels; now the figures are in the hundreds.
Digitisation has broken down the differences between printed information, radio and TV in so far as distribution is concerned - so-called convergence. Each can be distributed on CD, over cable, by satellite or terrestrial broadcasting. Bandwidth restrictions continue. Although any service can now be delivered over any channel, the different restrictions determine to a considerable degree the actual choice made by the communicator (publisher or broadcaster). In parallel, new forms of information service are emerging, interactive services, that have new requirements and complicate the picture.
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