It’s easy to look at ebooks as the reason why printing and publishing are changing so drastically. Of course that is a primary trend but there are also other forces at work. Consumers are buying both print and digital books in different ways. Independent content creators and writers are gaining a competitive advantage and publishers are constantly looking for new ways to navigate a changing market. In the course of our business, we see trends that are shaping the future of the printed book.
Several factors including the rise of ebooks and the competitive advantage of smaller or self-publishers has caused strain on the publishing industry. The margin for error has shrunk and publishers can no longer afford to print books that don’t sell. It used to be that they could increase run lengths to get cheaper per-unit prices but now the cost of managing inventory that doesn’t sell has threatened the traditional business model.
One way or another, publishers have become leaner and meaner. Books manufactured on digital equipment have increased in quality over the years and now print-on-demand and short run printing models have become very popular. Combine these speedy manufacturing models with expedited schedules and publishers no longer have to worry about precision demand forecasting. If they don’t print enough, they can get more books to market quickly.
There is evidence that ebooks are beginning to plateau but they are still making gains in market share over print books. The important thing to look at here is where will print books find their place in a world of digital readers and the internet? We’ve seen this before when new technology moves in to supplant other forms of technology that have been around for a while.
For example radio was the dominant means by which millions of people got their news, entertainment and other information. When television came along and become more affordable, there were worries that radio would cease to exist. While radio is no longer the dominant means by which we are entertained or informed, it does still have a very strong niche market.
In other words, it has found a place for itself among a world of more advanced media. It has even reinvented itself in some cases with the advent of services like iHeart Radio that enable stations to reach listeners well outside of their traditional local reach. The same phenomenon will happen with books. Yes the market for printed books will shrink and perhaps continue to shrink more than it has now but it will never completely disappear.
Recently our own John Edwards spoke at the 2013 Interquest Digital Printing in Publishing forum. Gilles Biscos (President of Interquest Ltd.) offered some statistics on ebook consumption and reading habits of consumers in general.
- In 1978, 7% of people did not read books. Today that number has climbed to 25%
- A third of people have a reading device
- Ebook sales in general are up 44% in the last 12 months
- 23% of those surveyed have read an ebook in the last 12 months
- 56% of iPad users do not use their devices for reading books
- 25% of kindle users do not use them for reading books.
Those final two tid-bits are very interesting. Tech companies just aren’t seeing the enthusiasm for their products when they can only do one thing. When Amazon’s kindle hit the scene, it started to lose its luster to devices that could surf the web, take images and video, run powerful applications and games and do pretty much anything else a laptop computer could do.
Direct Publishing Platforms
With each passing month it seems to get easier for authors to publish their work in a digital form. Kindle Direct Publishing for example claims to be able to publish ebooks in a matter of hours. Platforms like these make it easy for authors to not only bypass traditional publishing routes but to reach thousands of buyers quickly.
Although on the surface it would seem that services like these are a threat to traditional publishing and printing (and for the most part they are), they also bring forth a phenomenon that could create additional opportunity for those players. In the old model, it is incredibly difficult for authors to succeed and very easy for them to give up. With self-publishing processes like the one offered by Amazon, it’s easier for authors to try to push work out again and again even if they aren’t successful at first. If they finally strike it big with a title, they may be more likely to turn to professional help and larger print runs.
What trends do you see influencing the print and publishing industries? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.