Bookstores are turning into gift shops and who goes to gift shops anymore. The book selection in bookstores is dwindling down to those which are most popular. Similar to a gift shop, you visit the shop simply to get the most popular gifts for the occasion. You don’t want to sort through thousands of unpopular books or gifts; it’s there because it’s popular. Then again, what is the point of having a gift shop or a place to buy books when you can order anything you want online and have it in a day? Just as well, what determines what is put in a gift shop? Almost always what is most popular online! Nearly 20 years ago, professionals were arguing whether the print book industry was dying or was just in a slump. Then, in 1995, with the introduction of Amazon, we knew that the print book industry wasn’t just on a rollercoaster, it was on a plummet to its death. However, one can’t simply decide whether the print book industry will survive based on one-sided facts. One must look at the change Amazon has brought to the print book industry and the technological changes that are being forced. In the end, there may be a more important question than whether the print book industry will survive or not.
Limitless isn’t merely a highlighted word in Jeff Bezos’ mental dictionary, it is the only word. Bezos, the creator of Amazon, knew that there was no limit to what can be sold and bought using the internet. What better way to start up an online retail business than by using the foundation of books? “After all, even the larger 60,000-square-foot emporiums of Barnes & Noble and Borders could carry no more than 175,000 titles. Amazon, by contrast, was virtually limitless in its offerings.” (Wasserman, 2012) Previously, Barnes & Noble and Borders took out the small independent book sellers, Amazon didn’t need to lift a digital finger. Now, Borders has been desolated, Barnes & Noble deteriorating, all the while Amazon is globally increasing their revenue. One might think this has nothing to do with the death of print books because Amazon sells print books. As a matter of fact, Amazon has been the vehicle that caused the statistics to flip: internationally, the number of eBooks sold each year has greatly outnumbered the number of print books. (2012) Here, you have the Amazon Effect. The Amazon Effect has taken something wholesome and tangible and has turned it into nostalgia. In fact, to some, it is this nostalgia that has kept the book industry going on the brink of survival for the seven years that Amazon has been leading in the book industries sales. It is the idea that technology can never replicate the feeling, smell, and experience of holding a book. Many suggest that because holding a book has become part of our culture that it will remain so. When in fact, cultural change is the only constant the American society can predict. Let’s take a look at how the cultural change of the digital revolution has reflected the number of writers and authors.
One would imagine that there would be a decrease in writers due to the dying print book industry. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, from 2010-20, there is an expected growth of 9,500 writers and authors. (2012) At first glance, this statistic would appear to support the survival of the print book industry. That observation is inaccurate. There are two major reasons for the increase, neither of which supports the survival of print books. The first reason for the occupational increase is the ability to electronically self-publish in the sense of authors converting their books and articles to digital versions and selling them online or simply offering them up for free to build a tribe of followers. The second is the increased need for digital writers. Every company, agency, and business understands the value of their digital and social media involvement. As a result, they must hire multiple writers and authors to provide consistent online content and interaction. The occupational outlook is positive for writers and authors, but it does not reflect positively on the book industry. In fact, the increase of writers and authors is quickening the death of the print book industry.
One might want to respond that the occupational outlook statistics are true and the increase in media involvement then helps publishers to sell more printed books. “The book industry thrives because it feeds into so many other forms of media.” (1997) This quote was taken from the films on demand video, Book Industry. The fact the video made that statement in 1997, only two years after Amazon was created, says something very powerful, yet contradictive. The actions the print book industry has made – to enter other forms of media – were forced by the immediate critical hit Amazon dealt to the print book industry. Yet how can the print book industry compete with Amazon?
- Public taste is fickle when it comes to books, so Amazon opened the doors to unlimited options. It’s hard to get a store to sell a book to become a bestseller and much easier to get it on one of Amazon’s Top 100 lists – all of which can be bought in digital formats.
- The only book reviews one sees in a store are on the book and obviously biased. However, on Amazon, you have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of honest and full opinions online from readers around the globe.
- Traditional book stores need to keep up with trends, Amazon created a place for trends to start – online.
- One visit to Amazon would show that the price of books can be up to 80% off the regular store price – the majority being eBooks.
Pulling from an academic article written in 1994,
Jon Berger, electronic publishing consultant for William Byrd Press in Richmond, Va. says it will take five to 10 years for electronic media to catch up with print’s volume, and another l5 to 20 years for electronic media to become more widespread than print. (Heger, 1994)
It is now 2012, 18 years after the statement was made by a professional electronic publishing consultant and while his predictions of what will happen have come true, his estimated time was far off. The speed at which the digital revolution is taking over the print book industry is occurring at a quicker pace than could have ever been predicted. All the while, the print book industry is trying to use the digital revolution to its advantage. According to, Erin Carriero, author of Electronic Books: How Digital Devices and Supplementary New Technologies are Changing the Face of the Publishing Industry says,
While it is true that the publishing industry has been struggling, new technology and the advent of digital devices on which to read books have not handed down the death sentence to publishers. In actuality, ‘computers and other new technologies may in fact be enhancing our ability to produce and distribute printed books, ensuring that books will continue to be a part of our future.’ Publishing giants all over have recognized this reality and have tweaked company strategies accordingly. (2010)
Publishers, knowing how powerful the digital revolution is, have tried to incorporate it as much as possible into the life of the print book industry.
The print book industry is using technology as a supplement. J. Ayodeji, writer of The Book an Adaptation from the Film: Technology, Narrative, Business & How the Book Industry Might Adapt the Film, thinks that the book industry can survive if it follows the transformation the film industry has made. In one example he says, “Thematically linked digital boxsets of books can be easily imagined; the digitally annotated Student Guide Edition of a book is an easy sell but what about the rest of us, the reading public? How might this networked future affect the book?” (Ayodeji, 2011, p. 6) In a sense, Ayodeji is suggesting that we can create additional digital platforms to books. Take, for a perfect example J.K. Rowling’s creation of Pottermore. She has taken her book and created a digital world of it for readers to enter. Additionally, one can find hundreds of children’s books that, when read online, provide a learning experience. In essence and at first glance, the digital revolution isn’t killing the print book industry; it’s merely giving it multiple streams to form revenue. However, one must understand that all these digital additions to books can be done to the digital versions of the books as well. In fact, it seems more logical to have everything in one place rather than needing a hard copy of a book and a computer. Instead, one simply needs a computer to have both the book and its digital counterparts.
Despite this positive transition the print book industry is pursuing, to combine the digital revolution with the hard copy of books, there is an important question that must be answered before one can decide whether they believe the print book industry will die or not. How much change will the print book industry withstand, until it becomes something else completely? If the print book industry performs all the technological adaptations it must to survive, can one still call it the print book industry? In other words, if hard copy books become one small piece of a much larger puzzle, it seems illogical to look at it as the print book industry. It would seem that the print book industry’s efforts to leverage the digital revolution to its favor, is actually speeding the process of the elimination of print books. It is not a matter of whether the print book industry will survive or not, it is a matter of what we are willing to still consider to be the print book industry.
Stay Positive & It’s Pretty Crazy We Decide The Fate Of It, Isn’t It?
Garth E. Beyer
Ayodeji, J. (2011). The Book an Adaptation from the Film: Technology, Narrative, Business & How the Book Industry Might Adapt the Film. International Journal Of The Book, 8(3), 113-122.
(2012) Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Writers and Authors, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm
Carreiro, E. (2010). Electronic Books: How Digital Devices and Supplementary New Technologies are Changing the Face of the Publishing Industry. Publishing Research Quarterly, 26(4), 219-235. doi:10.1007/s12109-010-9178-z
Films Media Group. (1997). Book industry [H.264]. Available from http://digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=3891&xtid=8559.
Heger, K. (1994). Print: A road kill on the information superhighway?. Communication World, 11(9), 30.
WASSERMAN, S. (2012). The Amazon Effect. Nation, 294(25), 13-22.