09 June 2008


“Reading in America, as in many rich countries, is down. A study by the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, says leisure reading is declining, especially among the young. Since 1985, books’ share of entertainment spending has fallen by seven percentage points… Books have changed very little in half a millennium, but they may now be on the verge of going digital.”
[Quote from Unbound, the Economist, 5 June 2008.]

The latest issue of the Economist has a story on Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos shaking up the entire publishing industry with ‘Kindle’, his e-book reader, and his decision to insist that all POD (‘Publish On Demand’) books sold through Amazon.com be printed by the company at its warehouses.

The Economist story, which really highlights the advent of new technology in the publishing industry and, with it, changes in book buying and book reading, clearly vindicates the fact that less and less people are reading, and even less are going to be reading in the future, the printed word – not just newspapers (see my previous post), but also books.

There are good reasons for this change: “An economic slowdown may play to the new technologies’ strengths. The costs of printing and shipping paper and cardboard are rising… And if consumers become more price-sensitive, e-books may become more appealing.”

But, for the moment, there is some good news for the traditional book publisher. According to the Economist story, “Though they are an improvement on a computer screen, e-book readers remain crude simulacra of books. A poll released by John Zogby at BEA (i.e. Book Expo America) found that 82% of Americans strongly prefer paper to pixels.”

The end note? Says the Economist, “Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers. As with music (I had blogged about this too), any technology that brings these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient — but hurts those who benefit from the distance between them.”

[Citation: Unbound, the Economist, 5 June 2008.]

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