obama Today Amazon began selling a book of photographs and essays about Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency and his first 100 days in office. It’s not the first book like that but this one has an interesting twist, and the publishing industry is hoping you find it compelling – or if not this one, then another one that uses the same technology.

You see, this one can include some of your own photos and words, interspersed throughout the book. Maybe you have some photos related to the inauguration, or you want to turn it into a personal statement about what it meant to see this happen in your lifetime, or you want to personalize it for a child. You can decide what the end product will mean to you.

The personalized additions are cleverly inserted in the book. You can add an image to the back cover, put yourself next to pictures of celebrities, or put your spouse’s name into a photo of an invitation to the inaugural. How about looking closely at a picture of Obama on election night and discovering that your name is just visible in the message on his Blackberry?

Here’s a USA Today article about the publishing venture, and here’s coverage from ABC news.

After you order The Obama Time Capsule from Amazon, you’ll get an email directing you to a web site for a short process to choose your photos and add text. The book will arrive in 2-3 weeks. If you don’t want to personalize your copy, a generic version will be printed for you instead.

A longtime friend, Jim Rowson, is Chief Technologist for HP’s commercial print business and has been working on the technology and equipment that makes this possible. If books and magazines can be printed efficiently on the fly in small numbers, it might be a shot in the arm for the struggling publishing industry. Creative thinkers can imagine endless ways to tempt you with personalized books; or perhaps you would publish a magazine if the costs of entry were low enough; or maybe it becomes a way for the publishing industry to make old, out of print, or fringe books readily available even if they have very small audiences.

Last year my wife and I each put together 80-page hardcover books for our families using Adobe Photoshop Elements. They were filled with carefully selected photos of generations of grandparents and aunts and cousins, photos that might have been lost forever and in some cases had never been seen before. I did some extra technical tricks on mine to include blocks of text laid out with care. It was an incredibly rewarding way to create something that touched me and the people I love.

It was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done with a computer. I probably spent 200 hours putting mine together, with way too much of that time spent wrestling with technology. (I’ve earned my opinion of Adobe software.)

HP’s venture means it might be easier to do that the next time. You might never have thought about doing a project like that, and for good reason – the technical barriers have been high. But imagine if the hardest part was choosing the photos?

HP and the publishers who will use its technology are hoping to remove the technical barriers and give you the freedom to be creative. During the next few years, when you place an order with Amazon, think about whether the book you’re ordering actually exists at the moment you order it, or whether it will be literally warm off the press when it’s shipped the next day.

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