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The Book is dead. No.Yes.No.Yes.No.

I can’t seem to go a day without reading BIG STATEMENTS about the book industry.

Everywhere I turn, someone is proclaiming death! victory! revolution! transformation! unprecedented opportunity! or just plain chaos! in the publishing and reading industries. I don’t think this is just a BookSnob poking around, this is becoming a mainstream conversation.

Look no further than the cover of Fortune this month who devoted the March issue to “The Future of Reading“–a fascinating article and definitely worth a read. Or a more detailed industry view in the New York Review of Books with this piece on “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future“.

As a Bay Area resident, I am no stranger to inflammatory statements.
As a marketing professional, I am even guilty of creating them.

The mantra? “Have a point of view and be bold”. How else can you get their attention? Particularly with new technology…hype helps.

Exhibit 1: Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and master marketer. In 2005, he declared the death of software, proclaiming that all enterprises would use software as a hosted service rather than purchase it for on site. In 2011, industry analysts cite that 75% of all enterprise applications will still be on premise software. Seems to be still alive and kicking then, Mark, by my calculation.

Don’t get me wrong. I generally subscribe to Mark’s vision about this sea change in technology. But the timeframe is off. As a former boss of mine used to love to say: “There are no unreasonable goals, there are just unreasonable timeframes.”

In these big, breathy statements I’m taking in, it’s hard to sift out what I really actually think about what’s happening in reading and publishing. It’s difficult, so to speak, to separate fact from fiction.

So let me try this on for size:

1. Reading is not going away. Content is easier to acquire and competition is making it cheaper than ever. New creativity in what a book is: (mashups, ebooks + Video) are bringing non-readers into the fray. I would argue that the market for readers will grow. Please note that I despair to think otherwise.

2. The technology + reading trend is irreversible. Ebooks were only 3% of sales in 2009, but this isn’t a trend I would bet against. The introduction of the iPad and a tablet from every major hardware manufacturer will only accelerate growth of electronic reading. But, please note, I won’t call for death to the book for at least 10 more years. If ever.

3. There will be carnage in media, publishing and book retailing. We’re already seeing this happen. Power dynamics are changing. Consumer tastes are evolving. And big, clunky, static competitors will and should fail. Sorry, but that’s the way capitalism works. I grew up in Michigan and, well, I can think of at least one other industry that is facing the same. It’s sad and it’s painful–but the opportunity to reinvent and compete is also there. Change is good.

4.  Consumers love choice but their choices aren’t always binary. You may love your Kindle, but like a hardback for the beach. Pass on a paperback to a friend. Can’t read on a screen after a long week at the office. Must have your iPad for travel. Different audiences want different platforms and they might vary by different uses/situations. Tomorrow’s competitors are going to need to be more sophisticated about their consumers’ tastes and preferences–and be flexible enough to serve a wider set of end points. Some call this era the ‘splinternet’.

5. Now is an awesome time to be a BookSnob! If you love to read and you love the creation of the written word–who cares for a moment how its delivered–then you can’t deny, great things are happening. Where there is attention, there is likely innovation. Where there is innovation, there is excitement. It’s virtuous and fun.

So, I for one, love the hype…..

Do you think reading is dead? What’s in your crystal ball about media, publishing, reading?

Have a point of view and be bold, right?

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Computers were supposed to negate the need for paper. Well, look about at the piles of files stacked in cubicles around the country and it’s clear the paperless office has not arrived–and probably never will.

    I think technology has increased interest in the written word and produced far more readers than at any time in the past. Blogs, online conversations like the one we’re having now, texting instead of calling–all rely on reading.

    We forget that for most of its existence, a book was a luxury. Some books will remain luxuries (expensive art books). Some books can’t be replaced by a Kindle (gorgeous coffee table books). Some books you don’t want to replace (a paperback you can blithely toss in your sandy beach bag). And then some books (and magazines) will be so perfectly suited for an iPad they’ll open a whole new world to writers and readers. Traditional publishers may not survive but, like you Katy, I think reading will … and I despair to think otherwise.

    March 11, 2010
    • I agree, there are forms of books, that people will want because of their artistic beauty and their permanence. I still love books that have been signed by the author–what will we do in the electronic world??? As for traditional publishers–you have to ask yourself what the value is that they bring? It used to be selection–they picked the best titles–marketing, distribution. But I think the roles that they play aren’t as valued or required in this digital age. Self-published, social media promotion, link on Amazon and consumers decide for themselves and by reviews from their peers….you can see a world where publishers don’t maybe play a big part. It will be interesting to watch who survives..

      March 12, 2010
  2. Ellen #

    In the end, people will always buy books. They are like comfort food, the thing we return to to feel better relaxed and unstressed. it may be that techies arrive at books later than we did, but they will come.

    March 11, 2010
    • I do think the combination of new technology changing the nature of what a book is…it’s going to bring new people to the fold. I wonder if those technology adopters will eventually swap out to books, or back and forth across mediums. Thanks for your post.

      March 12, 2010
  3. My mother was a librarian, so I don’t typically buy books, per se. But then my husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I’d hate to not use such a wonderful gift, so I’m actually buying more “books” than I ever have. The format is different, sure, but the joy is the same. And with less overhead than the printed version, ebooks might actually “save” the publishing industry.

    March 11, 2010
    • I have had many tell me that the Kindle is causing them to buy more books than ever before. Amazon has done a good job eliminating the friction that you hardly feel like you paying. In the Fortune article, they basically say what you have said here: “this is the last shot for the publishing industry to save itself.” We shall see…

      March 12, 2010
  4. Big Mike #

    Book Snob – it is clear that you have been fortunate to work some great leaders in the past – you are blessed! I love my Kindle and i am reading more, for some reason. But i am also quicker on the “buy” button and doing less research in advance – more reason to use the Book Snob blog for help.

    March 31, 2010

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