Three revolutionary innovations in the field of communication – the invention of language (spoken and especially written), invention of the printing system in the 15th century, and the invention of computers in the 1960s – have led to major advances for humanity.
Without the development of language, and subsequently the printing system, the world could not have progressed this far. Among the three, the first two are more important for the survival and further growth of human society than anything else. Further nourishment of languages has allowed our cognitive capabilities – especially for meaningful sharing of knowledge, for enjoying freedom, for business or for creativity – to excel above all other species.
Written form of language was a blessing for humankind as this enabled us to create, contain and transfer messages from one place to another initially using older form of carriers like the papyrus, parchment, and later, with paper.
The invention of printing in 1455 by German inventor Johannes Guttenberg had ensured three things in dealing generated information, i.e., storability, transferability and quickness. After its appearance, the technique of printing has absolutely dominated the whole world for over 500 years until it was challenged by digital technology that arrived at the end of the last millennium.
Guttenberg's work and invention, printing with movable type, had triggered a revolution in book production throughout the world. As a result, a much greater proportion of the population had the chance to acquire education, culture, and information through books and other printed materials than with handwritten books.
Consequently, illiteracy decreased in the following centuries, mostly at the western hemisphere, and later the subcontinent had also experienced a good growth of literacy in last fifty years. With the arrival and easy availability of new innovation of printing like phototypesetter and lithographic printing during the '70s of the last century, the cost of producing books turned very low and printed books became a low-cost mass medium.
Even today, in the age of electronic media, annual growth rates in book production and other commercial printing materials are still recorded. As per information of Wikipedia retrieved on December 12, 2019, China was at the top of publishing 440,000 titles in 2013, while USA standing second produced 304,912 titles.
On the other hand, in 2011, the UK produced 184,000 books, and Japan in 2017 produced 139,078 books. Neighbouring India in 2013, produced 90,000 titles. As per 2019 annual report of Association of American Publishers, the sales value of printed books of America in 2018 were $22.6 billion, whereas the sales value of books contained in other medium were only $3.4 billion. Statista, disclosed a survey report this year saying around 74 percent of readers preferred reading printed books.
With the expansion of printing machines and relevant technology, the markets, either in the West or in Bangladesh, for print products offers more variety than ever before. Usually, printed products are categorised into commercial printing and periodicals. Commercial printing refers to print products that are produced occasionally, e.g., catalogues, brochures, leaflets, business cards, etc. Periodicals are printed matters that appear periodically, e.g., books of different categories, newspapers, journals, magazines. Besides, other printed materials like calendar, diary, greeting cards, label, price tags, packing of garment industries, covers of medicine, etc., are also to be offered.
With the advent of multimedia, the print media, especially newspapers, is now under great threat. A significant number of newspapers around the world either have clearly perished or compelled to convert into online. Almost every newspaper in Bangladesh now opened their online editions besides somehow maintaining their print version.
The circulations of newspapers worldwide have been sharply falling for the last two decades. The television media is also facing an onslaught of multimedia attack. People, especially the younger generation, have been growing up under the influence of multimedia appliances. The prevailing environment dominated by the "digital jungle" is such that the young people cannot ignore them. The net result is that the younger group have increasingly drawn their attention from the printed materials to the digital world. They spend most of their time in front of a screen, creating a big debate whether the print medium will disappear from the earth forever or not.
The fate of books as well as newspaper is also under threat from different perspective as the traditional "reading habit" of people has been changing. The youths are found preparing their study materials using e-books and other digital material. However, this is not new as the trend of reading printed books and newspapers or periodicals gradually decreased with the increased influence of information technology including internet.
While young people are quite comfortable with screens, the older generation feel more comfortable and are attached to reading printed books, and traditionally read newspapers every morning. Those over 40 mostly find screens discomforting to their eyes, and most of them would not stop reading newspaper or books in their lifetime. The death of printed newspapers or books, forecast by the pundits like Marshal McLuhan in the last century, or Philip Meyer more than a decade back, have not stood the test of time. The extinction process, which started many years earlier, has not been going on with the pace expected.
As per information of New York Daily News published in May 1, 2017, in England, the sales of e-books decreased by 17 percent in 2017, while in America it reduced by 19 percent. In contrast, the sales volume of printed books increased 8 percent in America. Both books and newspapers and other printed materials are still thriving even with the ongoing trend of using digital reading system. The group, who are delighted to expect the disappearance of books and other printed materials, have the arguments that the reading of books or newspapers would not be stopped as only the medium of reading would be changed after the death of printed books and other materials.
They are quite happy to see their reading material on web pages instead of paper. Further, they argued that there would be no major changes in the reading habit of the people as reading stories, poems and novels would continue as usual – with only the medium changing to screens. However, researchers observed qualified changes among readers of the new generation with the change of medium. Print readers will not remain similarly attentive after switching to digital medium. Their "attention span" towards digitized reading materials is significantly decreasing. With the change of medium, readers are simply turning into listeners or viewers.
They are spending more time on audio-visual content on reading text with a critical mind. This effect has also been observed in classrooms, especially at universities. A significant number of young faculties mostly concentrate on preparing their class materials using PowerPoint presentations instead of freely explaining the selected topics. Students can rarely be found engaging their brains during such lectures.
As in most cases, no explanation is provided, leaving students with no desire to participate in the classroom or exercise their brains. They always expect the soft copy of the PowerPoint presentation at the end of the lectures.
The teachers are also mostly happy to provide the soft copy. Most of the students then sit for exams and skip reading reference books or research papers. Usage of PowerPoint in the classroom was introduced by the western teachers or researchers but after understanding the negative effect of decreasing concentration, they gradually stopped the practice. They opted to encourage and engage students to read more printed books and articles.
The changes in reading habit have started many years back. We can observe the changes in newspaper medium in terms of content and application as well as in the book, magazines and other printed materials. Visual elements, like the photograph, cartoon or graphics are getting more places now in newspapers or books, while the volume of reading content is equally decreasing.
Different researchers suggest young children to allocate a small amount of time on reading books. But children are mostly spending a substantial time of the day scanning digital machines instead. A research conducted by Kingston University of London in 2017 suggests that thoughtful people prefer reading books.
On the other hand, growing children who spend more time in front of digital screens are complaining about physical problems such as eyestrain, headache, insomnia, spinal discomfort, or obesity. Crime rates are also on the rise due to adventurous or intentional misuse of digital devices. "Screen viewing" children sometimes confine themselves to their rooms and deprive themselves from socialisation.
As younger people put more attention on digital screens, their "attention spans" are not only decreasing, their "reading brains" are also shrinking. If this continues, then in the process of evolution in line with Charles Darwin's theory, people's brains would lose the capacity for critical thinking. But in contrast, printed materials often encourage creative imagination and critical thinking of the reader since it requires personal interpretation and translation. The onslaught of digital dispersion has not yet fully pulsated everywhere as the people mostly exposed to it are youngsters. A significant number of people are still depending on printed material.
According to one source of Bangladesh Mudran Shilpa Samitee, no downward trend has so far been noticed in the demand for printed books and materials in Bangladesh, despite the introduction of e-books. Rather, the demand for printed books, periodicals, poetry, and novels are increasing. Therefore, there is no chance for the printing industry to face any survival scare in the near or distant future.
The source further said, the printing industry is very vibrant here and this indicates the environment of producing printed material is much better than that of creating digital products. The First Vice President of Academic and Creative Publishers Association Khan Mahbub expressed his strong conviction about the sustainability of printed books and material in Bangladesh. He said that e-books are yet to pose a challenge to the print industry in Bangladesh.
He also argued that the cost of technological support for reading e-books is still high, and the people are not quite capable of availing those devices. According to the source of Bangladesh Mudran Shilpa Samitee, as many as 1,350 organisations are the members of their association. Another 5,000 printing organisations are working throughout the country. The annual investment in the printing industry spans between Tk12,000-Tk15,000 crores, and the annual profit is around 15 percent.
This indicates the vibrancy of this industry. Despite that, the industry has been facing many hindrances. They need to import raw printing materials like paper, board, ink, lubricant, etc., by paying high customs duties. The high priced printing machineries being used in Bangladesh mostly come from the other countries. The source further said that there is no provision yet of getting institutional (bank) credit for establishing printing factories.
The cooperation extended by the government is few. The industry, like other sectors, progresses mostly at the private level. It initially developed in a scattered manner mostly at or near residential areas of Dhaka. It needs to be centralised. However, there is a scarcity of suitable places in the country for establishing a printing industry. The association, however, has the hope to create a "Mudran Pally" in Munshiganj.
The printing industry of Bangladesh employs around 300,000 people. But the people, working at local levels, not in Dhaka city. The people working in the industry do not have adequate formal institutional learning.
The main task of the printing organisations now is to print all the text books for the students of classes one to 10. Out of 36 crore textbooks being published every year under the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), the printing industry takes the gigantic task of printing around 33 crore books. It also prints reference books at advanced level of different disciplines, religious books, literary books, and magazines, newspapers, etc. In addition to that they print calendar, diary, greetings cards, labels, all packing of garments goods including price tags, the cover of medicines, and different packaging round the year.
The annual market value of printing goods and commodities and services rendered by the printing industry of Bangladesh is around Tk4,000 crore. Out of that, printing goods worth around Tk160 crore are exported every year. The growth rate of this sector increases 10 percent per year.
The printing industry of Bangladesh has good relationships with China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, and the US. The representatives of this industry have been frequently participating in different international print fairs in those aforementioned countries.
Compared to the printing industry, the publication market of Bangladesh is much smaller as the readers of knowledge-based books are still confined to a certain level, but the trend of reading popular books is upward. However, no qualified expansion of reading society can be noticed. Despite this stagnation, the volume of publication of books, especially in the Ekushey Book Fair, has always been rising.
In 2018, the number of books published during the Ekushey Book Fair was less than 5,000. But in the 2019 book fair, it reached approximately 5,200. It is claimed that the sales value of the books published in the last book fair stood at Tk70 crore. Khan Mahbub argued that the publication industry of Bangladesh is not yet strong as the support extended from the government is negligible.
The government has not yet declared publication and printing as recognised industries so far. Before declaration, the government has to regulate them. There are laws, however, prevailing for launching both printing and publication organisations, but the workers engaged in both sectors are not properly paid due to the absence of a government approved wage structure. Despite maintaining hectic and tough job schedules daily, and having no regulatory body, around 200,000 people have been directly working in the publication industry, but altogether 2 million people around the country are indirectly engaged in the industry. Despite huge constraints, the annual investment of the industry is around Tk500 crore and the rate of return is between 15 to 20 percent.
As the market for published content is virtually confined within the boundaries of the country, most of the publication houses of Bangladesh survive by publishing guides and notebooks, except around 350 creative publishers. There are few big publication institutes under the Ministry of Culture, which mostly upholding the task of disseminating formal knowledge. These are: National Book Centre established in 1961, Bangla Academy in 1955, Directorate of Public Libraries in 1954, and the Copyright Office established in 1964. Another big institute under the education ministry is the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), which every year accomplishes an uphill task of distributing around 36 crore text books at primary and high school level.
There are around 10 big publication associations and another 20 smaller associations working in this sector. Apart from this, as many as 2,500 publication organizations have been working throughout the country. The government through its enlisted institutions has been harnessing books valued at Tk4 crore every year. Out of this mammoth volume, National Book Centre harnesses books worth Tk2 crore, and Public Library for Tk1.80 crore. The government collects some more books worth Tk20 lakh through other organizations.
Both the printing and publication industries engage at least 500,000 people, but they people are not appropriately skilled. They need appropriate training or academic learning to cope up with the expected standard of work, which can enable them to produce the quality products at a faster pace. The people working in both industries are self-trained through their services they rendered in their respective organisations. Both the industries thus desperately need highly trained and academically qualified people, but frustratingly there is a scarcity of such institutions in the country which can produce sufficient quality human resources.
The Graphic Arts Institute at Mohammadpur offers a four-year Diploma in Engineering in Print programme. Besides this, the Department of Printing and Publication Studies has been launched at the University of Dhaka in 2015. The department, founded under initiative of Dr Bimal Guha, the former Inspector of Colleges of Dhaka University, presently offers a composite honours programme in printing and publication.
The department focuses on generating students with technical knowledge and know-how in the field of printing and publication. The printing and publishing industry of Bangladesh has been flourishing on its own for more than a century without much support from institutionally educated people.
Therefore, the curriculum of masters and honours programmes of the department is designed to prepare the students to take a challenging career in the field of printing and publishing and to fill up the vacuum which presently persists in the industry. The department has so far produced a group of graduates, and in the next five years, the printing and publishing industry of Bangladesh would have the opportunity to recruit fresh technically equipped graduates from the department.
In spite of reckless digital intervention, we, the people of the civilized world, are more awash in print than any other time in existence. The printing press has had a profound influence on the development of the world. Many of the other conveniences of modern life probably would not exist today had the printing press not been developed. It is difficult to imagine libraries and bookstores without printed volumes or even train stations or bus depots without printed material.
Paper is the prime surface among others that contains the impression of the printing machine. The printed paper, for different purposes, is lavishly but genuinely used in our daily life from dawn to dusk.
Therefore, the printing and publishing world hopefully would remain the same as earlier, as our mind is distracted while we read in digital screen, but peacefully concentrated on the page while we read printed books or any material. One statistics said 88 percent Americans still believe that they understand and can retain or use information better when they read print on paper. Digital reading system came with a bang, but has failed to cast out the power of print.
In order to keep the human brain active, and to save the "reading brain" from the digitised catastrophe, we need to stick with print. Print excites your senses in a way no other form of communication can. Pundits of this field also think that print is, and always will be, the leader of civilisation.
Dr Sudhangshu Sekhar Roy is a professor and the founder chair of the Department of Printing and Publication Studies at the University of Dhaka