Friday, June 25, 2010
Totebag manufacturing is just one of these overlooked industries. Half of the world's novelty totebags for books are manufactured in a single town in China called Shu Bao (书包). Shu Bao is located in an inland area of China that has concentrated on book related products; neighboring towns specialize in bookmarks, dust covers and those little alphabet labels used in dictionary manufacture. At this weekend's American Library Association (ALA) meeting in Washington DC, I had a chance to speak with Shu Bau's mayor, Yi Rui-Da, who doubles as a sort of totebag ambassador and salesman to the world. Yi was in town to start getting the word out about digital book totebags.
what happened to buggy-whip manufacturers after the introduction of the Model T is known to the committee. Some committee members thought the town was in the luggage business, and preferred to stay in the luggage business. Other committee members, aware of the specialized fibers that must be added to their totebag fabrics, argued that the town was really in the information portability business; these voices prevailed.
To make the transition to transporting eBooks, the town had to nurture its programming talent, of which it has an abundance. Totebags are made in factories that employ hundreds of teenage girls. But it's not like the old days, when the girl were virtual slaves, sewing everything by hand. In a modern totebag factory, the girls program automated sewing robots using specialized smartphone apps. Over the past 5 years, the top sewing machine programmers have gone on to advanced operating system hacking; before, they would get bored with programming and get married.
I asked Yi how this seeming magic had been accomplished; the most I could get out of him was that any book is "just another sewing pattern". I also asked him if standards for content and DRM would make ebooks portability possible without his digital totebag widget. We had a good long laugh at that one.