Digital media v “real” books

September 15, 2010


One of the biggest concerns in publishing at the moment is what effect the rise of digital media will have on physical books.

I have been advocating for some time that the most pronounced change will be a reduction in paper back sales as the sale of digital books rise. But this will be coupled with a rise in the sale of quality hardbacks. The theory being that if you read a reasonably priced digital book (US $1.99 or so) and really, really love it, you will buy a high end quality real  book to have in your house.

An article about Oprah and books on the BBC website tends to back this up:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11260600

Particularly the paragraph:

“One of the early titles she recommended, from the back list of a well-known author, was only available in paperback. Oprah expressed the view strongly on her show that the work ought to be made available in an inexpensive hardback, since that was what her audience wanted – a book to keep.”

The real issue I have so far with the change to digital books is that from what I can tell the publishers are reluctent to reduce the cost of the work.

For example Tony Blair’s autobiography (apparently the quickest selling such book since records began) is priced £12.50 on Amazon hardback and £6.99 as a download to your Kindle:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Journey/dp/B0040GJJUW/ref=sr_1_36?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&qid=1284469231&sr=8-36

This Amazon link also says the rrp for both hardback and digital is £25.00 – 25 quid for the hardback OR the digital file!

As I recall CD singles used to cost £1.99 – £3.99 whereas Apple pretty much destroyed the concept with iTunes selling the digital versions for under a quid.

I have a feeling publishers will need to adapt to this kind of paradigm shift in their business in order to survive the shift to digital.

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5 Responses to “Digital media v “real” books”

  1. David Eddins Says:

    I’m inclined to agree with you but then a similar argument was put forward for CD’s. If people liked the music after download they would buy a CD, to have on a self, with all the nice album art and lyrics.

    After a while you wonder why you keep the CD’s; taking up room on a shelf when so many other things are vying for space. If you want to show off your music have it available through the TV or on the computer, with all the album art downloaded and the lyrics, if you wish.

    I think the digital book revolution will take place when eReaders become ubiquitous and you can show off your bookshelf on your pc or even online. A bookshelf has always been something of a statement. Why not keep your bookshelf on the ‘cloud’ and allow your friends access to see what you’re reading, what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read. You could even send digital gift vouchers after seeing someone’s wish list. If everyone is doing this then the price on books can come right down. We all know that if you’ve read a really great book you lend it to your friends. What if you can send a book to your friend at a discount, if you’ve already bought it?

    There is a whole world of possibilities out there and for the publishers it all comes with enormously reduced overheads; the trouble is they have to run two business models at present.

    The change will come with the eReader, as soon as everyone has one the whole thing takes off. The Kindle and iPad may move things in the right direction but it will take that ‘iPod’ product to really make the change. The next generation will grow up with digital books as an expectation. There will always be a love of paper but the numbers will diminish over time. Being able to take the worlds literature on holiday in the space of one book can’t help but catch on. Bring on tomorrow it looks good to me.

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  2. pm4girls Says:

    I think there will be a change in the way we consume books, but I think it will be less radical than many people are predicting. What happens if you drop the Kindle in the bath? On Twitter the other day someone commented that their eReader battery had gone flat – that won’t happen with a ‘real’ book, which you can also pass between friends. I am an advocate of social media (that’s the topic of my latest book) but I think that society is shown that in this type of fundamental shift it is slow to change. Think of the fax machine!

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  3. David Eddins Says:

    I do have to disagree with some of the points from the last post. What happens if you drop your book in the bath? I realise the point is the cost of one item over the other but if your thing is reading in the bath then there are full proof solutions that make an eReader better than a book.


    As for the fax machines, that is a odd phenomena, they do seem to hold on precariously. They’re on the very verge of redundancy due to a hard core few IT illiterate people who can’t work a scanner.

    A fax had two functions that the small business couldn’t afford to perform any other way 20 or even 10 years ago, sending documents to remote locations and copying. They never really moved outside the business world and hold on because businesses have the machine and the number. Why not maintain the function in case someone really can’t work out how to attach a scanned document to an email. More people have scanners and printers in their homes and offices than ever had the chunky fax machine, which spat out reams of illegible pages.

    As for the batteries, well here you may have a point, but once the proliferation of the eReader takes off then technology will rise to the challenge. Digital ink require so little power that a PV cells can just about keep up.

    http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/10/lgs-solar-powered-e-book-reader

    This will only get better over time.

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