I recently had a spirited conversation with a group of magic collectors over the pros and cons of our very own database: Alexander – The Computer That Knows. Some suggested that any publisher who allowed his books to be scanned and uploaded onto the data base, was diluting the value of his books. The thinking being, if the information is available on line, why would anyone purchase a hard copy of the book? Others believed that the availability of this wealth of information far outweighed the potential loss of revenue to the publisher. As the owner of a niche publishing house myself (Mike Caveney’s Magic Words) it might surprise some to learn that I came down firmly in favor of the fattest possible Alexander. To my way of thinking, it’s a no brainer.
Fortunately for me, people who collect books on magic have an inherent flaw: they like the way books feel in their hands. Of course they enjoy the information these books contain but they also like the dust jacket, the gold stamping, the printed end sheets, the feel of the paper, and they enjoy seeing the spine of that book as is sits on their bookshelf. All elements that are not provided by a database. The fact that every word of these books is now on line does not change the fact that they enjoy holding that bound volume in their hands.
You might also say that with the advent of the Alexander database, I can take my entire collection of periodicals to the paper mill and have them pulped. Why not, its all on line anyway. Think of the space you’d save.
The truth is that Alexander has made my periodical collection even more valuable to me. There is nothing I enjoy more than finding numerous obscure references to some arcane subject on the Alexander database, then walking downstairs, pulling the original magazines off the shelf and settling into a comfortable chair to peruse magic history in its original form. Alexander has directed me to magazines that I haven’t peeked into for years and for that he has my undying gratitude.
And lastly, the number of people who are willing to join the Conjuring Arts Research Center so they can gain access to our wonderful pool of knowledge is not that large. I imagine they are mainly people actively engaged in the writing of a book or article about a subject that I will most likely enjoy reading. If having my books included in this pool of knowledge assists them in their task, and ultimately results in a more complete article, then we all win. And if that researcher finds him or her self reading a digitized book filled with interesting text, they might just decide to buy a copy. All of a sudden, instead of losing a customer, I just gained a new one.
If there is a down side to the Computer that Knows, I just don’t see it.