Books won’t disappear. We’ll cherish our favourite novels and pass our children’s picture books on to subsequent generations. But we’ll also throw out many types of books: travel guides, reference books, maps, business guides etc…
Disposing of books is a new phenomenon and books were previously not disposable items but permanent fixtures in the house. Like old music albums, they said something about a person. Like albums our favourite books will stay with us, in ever decreasing numbers, as memorabilia that we get out for a nostalgic moment of intimacy.
Some books will disappear in printed form because digital technology is teaching us to read differently and think of content differently. We pay to consume some content via the tap, from a common source rather than think we need to own our own: it’s cheaper, les wasteful, makes more sense, is more convenient and saves space. We pay for faster Internet and mobile access but we own fewer books. Books will sell as print on demand for those that want an entire printed copy.
Traditional barriers that existed between books, magazines, newspapers and video (broadcast) are blurring. We’ve grown to enjoy media that is discoverable, searchable, interactive, sharable, and that’s a far cry from the static experience of printed books.
New social pleasure and new conveniences in the digital reading experience are also driving change. We are social by nature and we like to read what other people have to say about the stuff we read. We like to feel part of a global community of interest, which is made possible by the Internet. Technology is changing the way we read and our relationship to content and to each other.
Buying books suddenly feels slow, inconvenient and expensive. We’re conscious that buying a book to look at once and to put on the shelf is not suited to modern day living. Ownership is somehow odd in this new era of post digital media.
Penguin said in their interim statement on 28 April: “we continue to adapt the business to significant industry change driven by the growth of both digital sales channels and digital books and by the resulting pressures on physical bookstores.”
Reading between the lines (so as not to sound alarmist) one can can see that what Penguin is describing is a new physics of business that is driven by digital change and consumer behaviour. Like the railways, digital media “upsets all conditions of location, all cost calculations, all production functions within its radius of influence and hardly any ways of doing things which have been optimal before remain so afterwards.” This was said about the railways in 1936 and borrowed from a recent book called Creative Disruption*.
In the UK printed books are fighting a losing battle with downward spiraling sales of UK fiction, decreasing by 8.8% in the first 3 month of 2011 with sales of Non-Fiction in similar decline with only food and drink books showing any resilience (largely because these sales are linked to premium TV or celebrity brands)
Waterstones, our biggest book selling chain (part of HMV) is struggling to keep book shops open and has announced the closure of 60 stores.
Our British Bookshops and Stationers chain is in receivership.
Where does publishing go from here? Do you believe it reinvents itself? I firmly believe that online communities need to flourish within every media business if they are to continue trading and justifying their existence into the future. Here’s how.
The quote I used above about the railways came from a book called Creative Disruption by Simon Waldman. I recommend all publishers read it.