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The Demise of the Paper Map

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As mentioned earlier in this blog, Natural Resources Canada will be dicontinuing the printing of its popular topographic maps series and make the maps available in digital format through the Internet. John Dawson, director of Natural Resources Canada, suggests in a Capital News Online story that paper maps are an oboslete way of presenting geospatial information. “When you’re looking at over 14,000 map sheets at the scale of 1 to 50,000 to cover Canada, there’s no way we can keep that information, in a paper format, up to date.” Interactive web maps such as Google Earth have made it difficult for static paper maps to compete.

Brad Green of the World of Maps map store in Ottawa diagrees. Natural Resources Canada brags “about it as if it’s some move to embrace the digital revolution, but that's just a smokescreen. It’s just an excuse to eliminate a service.” Green is concerned that costs for a printed map will climb and remte, less popular areas will be difficult to find.

Contrast this story with one that appears in The Business Review. JIMAPCO, a map publisher in the Albany, New York area is “concluding that the products you get on the Internet, such as MapQuest, are helping to educate people about maps. So people who have never used a map before are inclined to check out something on MapQuest and it appears they are becoming acclimated to maps and going out and buying them.” (By way of All Points Blog)

Read the Captial News Online story and view images of the soon to be defunct warehouse.

3 Responses to “The Demise of the Paper Map”

  1. Anonymous Jeff Thurston 

    Natural Resources Canada is, I think, moving in the wrong direction. They should not only be looking at the other company you mention in this post, but, they should probably be looking to the British Ordnance Survey in the UK who distribute over 1 million hardcopy maps a year.

    I was just at a large print exhibition in Munich, where 5,000 other people attended, and print appears not only alive but innovating and expanding.

    I am sure all those distant communities in Canada (that solely rely on telephone ISP) will like downloading 4 Mb maps for 3 hours -NOT.

    NRC should be embracing both harcopy and digital.

  2. Anonymous marco 

    With only 33,000,000 as a population (read: tax) base to fund a map series for a country the size of Canada?

    The economics just don't work.

    The Ordnance Survey has both a larger population base (est. 60,000,000) base to work from, much smaller land mass to map, and less remote (or "empty", or zero demand) map sheets to produce. Plus, not being a winter country, the change of seasons doesn't affect landforms or demand for maps as much as in Canada... Plus, their entire country gets coverage by many satellites and SRTM, etc., so updates are easier to source... etc. etc.

    On the marketing side, the OS over there has the same brand power that a Rand McNally Road Atlas has over here. OS maps are produced and used as standard street maps in a lot of the UK. Not so with NRCan. We have no matching consumer product or market presence. Consequently, our demand is lower and private companies fill that void.

    As much as I would love to see a paper series continue (I am very worried about the print quality of electronic maps as they go from offset spot colour to inkjet spray production)... It's just not feasible. Dang.

  3. Anonymous blackant 

    New Zealand has faced a similar dilemma just recently, and after initailly deciding to go with an entirely digital delivery of maps, the govt. agency (LINZ) changed their minds (after a lot of pressure from map consumers and interested parties) decided to continue with the paper map series - yay!

    NZ has 4,000,000 population, lots of areas of low habitation, a lot smaller area than Canada (450 sheets @ 1:50k).

    So I can see the large problems with producing 14,000 map sheets, but do they need to produce them all? Surely updating some areas more frequently than others would better?

    I agree with the guy who says that it an excuse to eliminate a service - all they are doing is deferring the cost of map printing to the end consumer, and saving money themselves at the expense of quality (inkjet vs offset).

    The paperless office will never arrive until we get decent and affordable digital paper.

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