Print is dead…or not

In a remarkable coincidence, today Zite gave me four articles in a row about “the future of books” or “the death of print”. I’m not sure what caused so many people to take a look ahead right out of the blue like this, but it seems like a good time to look at the articles and compare notes.

On Singularity Hub Aaron Saenz points to the recent Kindle library news, and the rise of e-book sales as printed book sales decline. He suggests that digital downloads could become the majority of the market as early as 2015 or as late as 2025, though it’s unclear at what percent of overall sales volume paper books will level out in the end.

And this leads Saenz to point out that piracy is going to be an increasing problem the more popular e-books get. It’s fast and easy, not to mention free, to download the entire works of many of the more popular authors. Writes Saenz:

The only thing, that I can tell, that has held off the flood of intellectual property piracy from hitting literature has been reader’s preference for physical books. Clearly, however, the popularity of e-readers and ebooks shows that preference is changing. If most of us own an e-reader by 2015, then most of us are going to be susceptible to the temptation of piracy. Already digitization has dropped the price of books from $15 to $9. Piracy could bring it down to $0.

Sure, printed books are dying, but the bigger news is that traditional publishers are probably going to die with them.

Though Saenz points out this may not necessarily be the end of the world for writers and readers, given the ability to self-publish through the Kindle or other means. And since Amazon pays considerably more per book sold in royalties than traditional publishers, the end of a traditional publishing model could lead to not necessarily more, but at least a greater percentage of  money going to the people who actually write the books.

I think that even if traditional publishers do go down, there will still be a market for stories, and people who will be willing to pay what a story is worth to them. So the market will find some way to make it work.

But the Big Six may not be off to the glue factory just yet. On the Huffington Post, Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., suggests that traditional publishers might find ways to reinvent themselves in the wake of the digital revolution instead. They could develop their own self-publishing arms to compete with Amazon, for example, and could also start marketing direct to consumers and bypass middlemen such as Amazon. (Baen already does this, after all.) Literary agents might reinvent themselves as general-purpose book and publishing consultants, and bookstore placement will become less important from an overall marketing point of view.

On the National Post, a Canadian publication, Robert Fulford ponders the “death” of the printed book and finds that e-books are engaging enough that he won’t miss it. A septuagenarian himself, he relates his own experiences and also quotes an 80-year-old German literature professor who has been reading since the age of six and has also come to love the Kindle. 

Electronic reading on the Internet has been available for a long time but, as Klüger says, it has begun to interest book readers only in recent years. She’s no longer anxious to buy traditional books but “I am impulsively snapping up ever more electronic reading material.”

I recognize that instinct. Since getting an e-book, I’ve found myself spending more money on books than I did a year ago, and spending it faster. Each e-book costs less (around $9 for a new novel), which tempts me to be more of an impulse buyer. Moreover, there’s an undeniable pleasure in the ability to obtain a book instantly.

Meanwhile, India News’s site Rediff.com is carrying a report on e-books that seems oddly ambivalent. The article notes that people who own Kindles or other e-readers tend to buy more books than those who don’t, though it’s not clear whether that’s because people who buy Kindles are likely to buy more books, or because people who buy more books are likely to buy Kindles.

But it also points out that “Since time immemorial, printed books have been seen as the preferred way of keeping a permanent record of our civilisation. This is not going to change for many years to come.” And it suggests that people who buy e-books might decide they want to buy a printed copy as well for “serious” reading.

Many customers, who purchased eBooks on Kindle or iPad, have later on decided to buy the same book in printed format. Roshni Khanna, a Delhi University student, and an avid book reader says, "Fluff one can read in digital form, but the works of real importance have to be enjoyed the print only." (sic)

And it suggests that “high quality works should always be printed.” Clearly, the p-vs-e advocacy flamewar is still alive.

4 Comments on Print is dead…or not

  1. Common Sense // April 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm //

    “Piracy could bring it down to $0.” Baloney. Piracy hasn’t been the death of paid music, it certainly won’t be for ebooks.

    It may be easy to find and download pirated copies for technically-inclined people, but most people aren’t technical enough or are afraid of picking up viruses and other nasties from the torrent sites.

    When I see questions like “how do I delete a book from my Kindle?” and “How do I turn my Kindle off?” dozens of times in the forums, I know that these people will not be out looking for pirated books.

    There have also been several studies that show that downloading pirated copies doesn’t necessarily equate to lost sales. Those are people who are either downloading huge files of books and will never read them, or people who won’t buy the book anyway. I sure don’t see people who say “oh, I can’t get a pirated copy so I’ll just pay $14.99 anyway”. They just buy some other book that costs less.

    As for print, some people may like to continue to read print books, but I’ve found that I always pick up my Kindle, not one of the dozens of print books I have that I haven’t read yet. I’ve read one print book in 18 months.

  2. Common Sense, most musicians make a majority of their money from performing, not selling their music.

    Unless an author is a major name or a celebrity in popular media, they have trouble bringing people in to a FREE event so performance isn’t a viable option for authors to increase their income.

    I doubt authors’ incomes will ever hit zero because most will have gotten out of the business before their incomes hit that low in what is a very poor paying business to begin with.

  3. I don’t agree that high-quality books need print, but research & reference books do; none of the current ebook readers (including PCs) have anything like the simple convenience of being able to put multiple post-its in a book. You can bookmark, but all the bookmarks look the same; you can’t put some on top & some on bottom, or make them different colors, or put notes on the bookmarks. Annotations, if possible, go elsewhere. The ability to toggle between a set of pages (or two books at once) is also lacking.

    I’m hoping the next serious shift in ebook software is academically-useful modifications, not video & sound inclusion.

  4. I’m not excited about all the ebooks/ereaders. I have a hard time just reading anything for too long on computers, I couldn’t imagine sitting down with a Kindle or something for hours looking at an illuminated screen. I won’t be able to read without getting a headache. I love to have an actual printed copy, it makes it seem more real that I’m actually reading the book.
    I’ve used a friend’s Kindle once, and I have to admit that it was pretty cool, but I don’t want to have to own one in order to read the books I want to read.

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