January 17, 2012
Jerome Rubin, 1925 - 2012: Passing of a Pioneering Giant in Electronic Publishing History
At a 1989 gathering of publishing giants, Jerome Rubin made an unpopular forecast: Technology would render the book obsolete. He argued that the expansion of computerized databases would decrease the need for printed books, a pronouncement based on firsthand experience.
Quoting from the Los Angeles Times obituary for Jerome Rubin, who died on Jan. 9, 2012.
The firsthand experience referred to goes back to the early 1970s when Rubin, a practicing corporate lawyer, was asked for his advice on a new computerized legal research system under development. Rubin (image right) left his law practice and become part of the development team that launched Mead Data Center's Lexis database search system in 1973. The Washington Post reported that he once said:
The key was to ensure that the database was simple to use, Mr. Rubin said, because “lawyers can’t type, and only 15 percent can spell.”
I don't know about spelling proficiency, but back in those days, lawyers certainly didn't type even if they knew how to. At best, they dictated a tape recording. At worse, they dictated to a secretary.
After working for Mead Data Central for about a decade, Rubin was hired by Times Mirror Co. as a vice president of a specialized publishing division in 1982. He was promoted to chairman of professional information and book publishing in 1989. He served in that position until 1992. That's when Rubin joined MIT's Media Laboratory where he led a consortium called News in the Future.
By the early 1990's, automation was well established in the newspaper industry. Reporters and editors had a decade-plus experience in drafting content online via internal networked information systems. Union concerns with radiation emissions from CRTs had been resolved in the 1980s. Production had advanced to where some but not the entire industry had implemented in-house created automated pagination systems. A new normal in newspaper industr driven by information technology stimulated "what's next" questions in the industry. Content creation was electronic. Print production was electronic. Transmission of news content to Nexis, DIALOG, AOL and other e-vendors was generating at the time substantial additional profits as a by-product of what was initially viewed as a technology that improved newspaper industry labor productivity.
Rubin's News in the Future project at MIT's Media Laboratory examined future technologies in the news business. His work there led him to co-found E Ink at the age of 72(!). The company was devoted to developing what was then called "electronic paper" for publishing. If you own a Kindle, Nook or Sony Reader, you are reading an eBook on an eReader that uses E Ink's display technology.
Rubin was instrumental in bringing to the commercial marketplace both full-text online legal research and eReader display for eBooks and other electronic content. He was one of the giants in the electronic publishing industry.We take full-text legal searching for granted now and, by the end of this decade, we will be taking enhanced Law eBooks for granted. His legacy is the world of information options and opportunities we live in today. [JH]