Dan Agin starts by bringing up the example of the Gutenberg press putting many scribes out of work, and then compares it to the possibility of the e-book putting many print-book publishing employees out of work. (This brings to mind the story I mentioned earlier about dealing with abundance.)
Agin points out that reading Kindle books does not require an actual Kindle, and anyone with a computer (or iPhone, though Agin does not mention that) has the ability to purchase and read 400,000 Kindle titles. Kindle books can have the font size adjusted to eliminate eyestrain, do not require travel to purchase, and do not take up physical space.
Anyone who believes this new technology is going away is dreaming. Anyone who believes the print publishing industry has a chance to survive in its present form is dreaming. It’s now possible for any small publisher to have free and almost immediate access to the largest bookstore in the world — Amazon. In a few days, a small publisher can have its entire backlist in Kindle format available at Amazon to readers. Salesmen are bypassed, distributors are bypassed, bookstore buyers are bypassed. What will not change much is marketing and promotion — new books will still need to be brought to the attention of the public. But the new books will be Kindle or Kindle-like digital books.
Agin thinks that the Kindle is going to be disruptive enough to print publishing that it is going to cause a great deal of turmoil, lost jobs, and business collapse.
But meanwhile, Jason Pinter thinks that the publishing industry has never had it so good.
“Think about it,” Pinter asks. “When was the last time books and publishing were as much a part of the daily conversation as they are now?”
Pinter points out that for all the disputes over e-books versus print books, pricing, and the like, e-books are still books, and it has been a long time since books qua books have gotten this much attention in the press and popular culture.
E-books’ market share is rising, many recent hit movies are based on books, the Amazon/Macmillan dispute drew a lot of media attention, the iPad is launching (not to mention a dozen other e-book devices), and more people than ever are discussing books and e-books on-line and via social networking.
Given that until recently the biggest news about reading was the fact that more people than ever before weren’t doing it, I find I agree with Pinter that seeing so much attention focused on reading matters now is hopeful news. They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity—and from the standpoint of books and reading, this may actually be true.