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12. October 2017

Books will always be around – book printers are another story

The transformations of book printing and bookkeeping businesses serve as a precedent – when the finance sector is changing, banks are under pressure. The demise of lead typesetting and accounting machines would suggest it is prudent to adapt to new and future technologies in a timely manner.

The rise and fall of the house of Gutenberg

Whether we’re talking about evolution, civilization or technology – it’s always: out with the old, in with the new! When Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing process, the time of medieval copyists came to an end. Their task had been to copy religious texts by hand. Probably only a handful of them found a new job as a typesetter. Gutenberg’s invention took the world by storm and gave a huge boost to educating the masses. But it too had an expiry date. With the arrival of personal computers as well as writing and layout tools, the era of lead type was over.

Again, many of previous participants came away empty-handed: the typesetters. As publishing houses and editorial departments switched to an IT-based production, their work vanished – the authors and journalists themselves became typesetters. The new technology dispensed with a whole profession, even though books, newspapers and magazines are still being published.

Same process, different technology

Proven technologies are being replaced by new ones. All those missing the boat are made redundant. Whole companies disappear, including erstwhile market-leaders. Does anybody remember Taylorix? At one time, their data handling systems Fixomat and Fixodata were ubiquitous in German accounting departments. Computerisation changed all that. Today, with the appropriate software, anybody can handle their bookkeeping on any computer. The brand Taylorix went the way of the dodo in 1999.

A new digital era dawns

And now digitisation is upon us. In some business areas it has already been accomplished, in others it still is a real challenge. Savvy fintech companies are using bits and bytes from the get-go, actually, their business models wouldn’t be working without digitisation. And that puts pressure on traditional banking houses, too. Or, as singer and literature Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan put it years ago: “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone“.

Books are still around, bookkeeping is still an integral part of any business, and banking surely has a future. Apart from the “how”, the “who” is crucial. Only those open for new technologies and willing to adapt them successfully into their business models will still be standing in the age of modernisation.

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