Just in Time: An Expert on the Future of Books

September 16th, 2010

Phew! That was close. Just yesterday I read on Simon Pulman’s Transmythology blog (Story, Branded Entertainment & Transmedia) that “It is a given that 90% of books purchased will be digitally downloaded.”

Today I learned from an “expert” that “the book is here to stay.”

Professor Clingham is a professor of English — clearly not mathematics — for he notes: “Just after Christmas last year, for the first time ever, the sale of electronic books exceeded the sale of hardback books. But, surprisingly, the sale of hardback books has remained constant, suggesting that people are buying more books and not just changing preference.”

The good professor obviously does not read my blog. If he did (and had a better memory than I), he would recall my entry from last January 5th where I discussed Amazon’s silly press statement: “On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.”

It turns out that Amazon was using the word “purchase” very loosely, in that 64 of the 100 top Kindle store bestsellers were free. These days Amazon admits that money is part of the transaction when we call said transaction a purchase.

So it was not after Christmas, but on Christmas Day, and it was only Amazon (not the world) and it was not sales. Aside from that, bingo.

Today I received also an inquiry from a third year graphic design student at the University of Leeds in the U.K. He explained that he is writing his dissertation on the “death of the printed word and image” and is reading as many articles as possible.

He read just one article on my site (out of perhaps fifty) and “wondered if you could point me in the direction of any other relevant research that is currently being undertaken?”

I’ve been at a loss for words. I thought to write: Why don’t you start by reading the rest of the articles on my site all of which discuss the…

And then I paused.

None of them discuss the “death of the printed word and image”. That’s because I don’t believe that the printed word and image are dying.

A key distinction to be made here: of course my site is all about the decrease in relative consumption of analog forms of content, replaced and often augmented by the wonderful explosion in available digital content.

But just because print is decreasing don’t mean it’s dying. I thought today: There is NO empirical evidence that print is dying. There’s a ton of evidence of decreased consumption, but media consumption does not evolve in a linear fashion. The trend line might look like it’s heading towards zero but an examination of historic media consumption patterns suggests that the decline will taper and at some point level off.

It could be that 90% of books purchased will be digitally downloaded, as Simon Pulman suggests. There is, however, no evidence of this. It is not “a given” (which Mr. Pulman acknowledged today).

Ebook enthusiasts, of which I am one, must keep in mind that analog media does not have to die for digital media to flourish.