‘There will continue to be a market for printed books for a very long time. I believe the bulk of people will still prefer to hold, feel, treasure, give, receive, display and read a printed book.’
Although, in some moods I am inclined to agree with Charkin: what if he is whistling in the breeze? Here are five reasons why print books may (mostly) disappear from the publishing scene (I agree that there will still be a market for second-hand printed books even when most people prefer to buy a digital book):
- Moore’s law. If/when an acceptable and popular form of digital book arrives, the digital channel will benefit from Moore’s law:- in this context this means that digital will become more attractive with respect to printed books at a rate approaching 50% per annum. Just before the Charkin comment, Gail Rebuck is cited to the effect ‘e-book competitors will not kill the book but happily co-exist with it in a bright new bi-literary environment.’ (Its not a direct quote). But that surely will not happen, because a digital solution will be getting better so much faster. How publishers can respond to a distribution channel that gets better (cheaper, more profitable. more capacious, better value) at 50% per annum is another matter…. but it will make it very difficult for printed books to be in a steady-state of peaceful co-existence, as it were ‘always with us’ like hardback and paperback editions.
- As more of our cultural environment migrates to the web (photos have gone with a flicker, music is going with an iTune, radio is on its last FM and TV is on the way via YouTube; film will certainly go digital), do we think that books alone of our mass culture formats will remain primarily analog in print? On the contrary books will be and are being sucked on to the web because those who live and work in a web environment, need digital books to be on the web.
- Energy. Books are heavy on energy. Are we sure that printed books will still be so popular when they cost £50/$80 or £15/$17.50 for mass market paperback. That may happen if oil goes to $300 a barrel.
- Digital editions will at some point begin to be perceived as better/more useful than print books. At that point, publishers, authors and designers will invest a great deal of effort in making them even better, in providing functions that print books cannot. And at that point Moore’s law (or perhaps its Metcalfe’s law) will come in with a vengeance.
- Libraries are going digital with enthusiasm and digital libraries will be much better than we can currently envisage. Digital literature will be the golden age of the library and we will all use digital library services.
At the moment CEO’s and captains of publishing houses feel the need to be cautious and to reassure their markets and their audience that change will be gradual and not disruptive. But if the change is disruptive and imminent the publishing houses who have already geared up for digital distribution and marketing will be at an advantage. I think most CEO’s in the business know that, and they also know that they are not too well prepared for it.
A lot of this is generational. I also like printed books and I am sure that I will still be reading them in 10 years time, but I suspect that by then most of my purchasing will be of digital books and my children will think it a bit odd that I still like reading from print editions.