With ever increasing popularity and acceptance of tablets, ebook readers etc. it is little surprise that the traditional form of paper books and it’s ecosystem is coming under immense pressure to survive and remain profitable. How long will the paper book and related industries, merchants, suppliers and consumers can resist the onslaught of electronic media alternatives? Or though it will shrink it will manage to survive by sticking to its core characteristics?
|Leon Neal, AFP /Getty Images|I can go on …..the point is consumption model of media, news and related item is changing dynamically. And it is reminder of the times that we generally are accepting the dramatic demise of our reliable sources of entertainment and information with a sense of inevitability. But the Waterstone’s story just brought to surface an issue in my mind which we probably should take a bit more seriously. UK book industry is not alone to face this situation. The Border’s bankruptcy in the US last month is another sad event in the chain.
As the TIME magazine reports, Two years? Three years? Five years? It’s a parlor game in publishing circles to speculate how long it will take before e-books constitute a majority of the industry’s sales in the U.S. But the tipping point aside, no one doubts that that is where the market is headed. Amazon, the industry leader, already sells three times as many Kindle e-books as hardcovers. Other book sellers aren’t far behind. Last week, the Association of American Publishers announced that in January, for the first time, monthly e-book sales had overtaken hardcovers. Paperbacks remain in the lead, for now. E-books are by far the fastest-growing segment of the otherwise sluggish, recession-plagued publishing business. In 2010 e-book sales jumped 164%, to $441 million.
One blog post is probably not enough to analyse and debate whether the ebooks are about to change everything in the long-form media world? But why am I sounding a bit alarmed at this obvious development in the lifecycle of an industry? The reason is books are different and special and play a vital role in shaping the growth, thinking and progress of not one but a number of generations. I personally am a progressive adopter of social media, online and electronic channels. It definitely has advantages in a number of areas in terms of speed, accuracy, mass-transmission and access. However books serve a different purpose. Books are intrinsically linked to how we learn, form perceptions, opinions, exchange and grow ideas from an early age. And it grows with us in maturity and complexity of ideas which we consume and express as human beings. It can very well be argued that the next generation will learn to achieve similar results by electronic media. However I feel that there is something unique about human interaction with paper, the ink, and the pictures which take the communication between an individual and the subject matter to next level of effectiveness. And I find it indeed sad that this unique interaction is becoming rare with every passing development listed above.
However this evolution is an irrevocable process and is part of the industry life cycle in some sense. It does have its advantages too in terms of accessibility, cost reduction, speed of distribution. It can also be argued that the very phenomenon which challenges its survival is helping book industry to conserve and revitalise aging, old, rare scripts. I guess what I am arguing here is some sort of balance. I do most of my reading online these days but yet I do take pride and pleasure in visiting book shops and investing in good books as and when I can. The article in TIME magazine, describing how Barnes and Noble avoided Border’s fate may hold the key to this delicate balance. I do not have an answer; in fact I feel there may not be a single answer to the issue I am discussing here. We are talking about fusing two different and unique consumption models, which is not a simple challenge. However addressing this will not just help book ecosystem, it will also help the consumption of other media types such as music, news, etc.