Thursday, January 06, 2011

Reading matters... very much!

Now at least in the United States e-books are outselling printed volumes. Is this good or bad news? For readers, at least in the sort term, it can only be an advantage if consumers have convenient and affordable digital delivery options. 

But for publishers, given the increasing dominance of Amazon with its editions for the Kindle reader, there are worrying days ahead. For Amazon is in no way dependent on selling books, either in physical or electronic form. The company markets so many other categories of merchandise that they are in a position to demand from publishers terms which may well be troublesome if not life threatening.

Were this not gloomy enough, there are hints that the second largest American bookstore chain, Borders, may fail, resulting in the closure of 600 branches. It seems quite clear that retailers selling only books are menaced. A future generation of book buyers may have to settle for the very limited list of titles stocked by supermarkets, by Walmart for example, and settle for a dramatically reduced choice of reading matter shelved in a corner... just another product category alongside the groceries, household goods, hygiene articles and so forth.

This is a second blow for the publishers. It will greatly reduce their willingness to take risks and oblige them to concentrate solely on best selling franchises. And, as with Amazon, Walmart and their ilk are not in any way dependent on selling books. An observer is quoted as saying...

"It's going to be a dangerous world for publishers if the only retailers left selling books don't have to."

A prediction of doom? For shareholders in traditional publishing conglomerates, certainly. 

For those of us who appreciate a wide range of reading options I don't foresee a complete catastrophe. My conviction is that the whole concept of what publishing is must and will rapidly change. I would even predict that what a book is will also be subject to review, particularly as the creative community, writers included, grasp the diversity of storytelling tools which tablet devices increasingly offer.  

Skip Knox summed it up well in a comment: "We need a new generation of authors and publishers who will create new art forms around the technology. We're still at the point analogous to the early years of movies, when all they could think to do was essentially film a stage play."

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