The beginning of the end for print?
2011 was definitely the year when e-books became established in the market place. Amazon announced last year that its e-book store sells 115 Kindle titles to every 100 paperbacks. Hardbacks are suffering a far worse time. This poses the question can both media co-exist in today's technologically savvy society? Or is this the start of an irreversible decline for print in general?
The romantic view of paperbacks
Since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, millions of copies of literature have been enjoyed by people from all social strata – informing, educating and entertaining which continues to this day.
Children of all ages still enjoy their parents reading a story to them at bedtime. Traditionalists often need books prised away from their fingers. Many readers have created a bond with books and an emotional attachment that is particularly strong. However, with the emergence of new technologies such as e-book readers and tablets, these devices are attracting young and older readers alike.
The growth of e-readers and tablets
The e-book phenomenon is being propelled by devices like the Kindle and iPad, with over 18 million tablets and 12 million e-readers having been shipped so far. Part of the appeal of these devices is the stylish modern design that many have adopted and the long battery life. Look around at how many e-readers and tablets are being used in trains or cafés instead of books.
Business and consumer benefits of e-books
A recent report from the AAP (Association of American Publishers) found a 1000% growth in e-book sales for adult fiction in the US over the last three years. Expectations suggest that this trend is set to continue in the UK, and could potentially be mimicked for the rest of mainland Europe.
Why are e-books so popular you may ask? Well, avid readers can carry around hundreds of their favourite titles on a single device. Downloaded purchases can be accessed in a matter of minutes over Wi-Fi or 3G networks. And replacements can be retrieved without additional cost to the buyer.
E-books are also becoming a more commercially viable option for publishers. Manufacturing, distribution and storage costs are greatly reduced. It's a more environmentally friendly option and creates a healthy profit margin for publishers.
More b2c / b2b businesses should consider e-books as a possible marketing avenue. For example instead of buying a whole travel guide, customers could purchase specific chapters relevant to them. Or if a company is constantly updating new datasheets, these could be published as an e-book to inform their clients.
There isn't a universal format yet but PDFs and epub (electronic publication) are becoming recognised standards, making self-publication easier. Plus, vendors like Amazon now encourage partnering schemes, offering assistance to businesses which lack the technical knowledge to bring their e-books to the digital market place.
This Christmas, I found myself abandoning paperbacks and downloading many free and relatively cheap (99p) e-books. These types of micro transactions will become more of the norm in the near future. As people spend more time looking at screens for work or pleasure, e-readers and tablet devices seem like a natural extension to our 24-hour digitally connected lifestyle.
Paperbacks surviving the test of time
There is cause for concern that traditional book sellers and libraries will be squeezed out of the public mind set with passing generations. I suggest however, there is still a place for books in modern society. Paperbacks are still affordable and can be swapped or bought second-hand, an option not yet available digitally.
Books can make wonderful presents both as literary works and aesthetically. There are some beautiful, elaborately designed books. Western calligraphy in the medieval era has illuminated letters. East Asian calligraphy incorporates sweeping brush strokes and is seen as a practiced art form. Even children's books have imaginative illustrations, from Beatrix Potter to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Apart from making book shelves redundant, the demise of the humble paperback would create a more profound impression than people realise. Can you remember your favourite children's story? I suspect you can. Is the thought of parting with your favourite book unbearable? Well, it's these sentimental thought processes that are cultivated early on in our lives and stay with us.
Whatever the outcome, the rise of e-books will bring a new generation into the joys of reading which is only a good thing.
As e-readers and tablets penetrate the public consciousness, the question to ask is are we, as business communicators, using e-books to their full potential?
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