Much has been made about the death of print media, from newspapers losing print readership to bookstores struggling with book sales. The rhetoric has slowly turned to doom and gloom as publishers and newspaper giants talk of a coming print media apocalypse. Recent news stories have only strengthened the argument: e-book sales have risen more than 115 percent compared to a year prior; the Association of American Publishers reported that their February 2011 format numbers show e-books as the number 1 format among all categories of trade publishing; and Amazon reported their top 10 bestsellers were being sold on Kindle at a ratio of 2 to 1 for print copies. A print publisher might start to fear for her future.
So is the print industry slowly dying and transitioning towards the internet? When one looks into the numbers a little deeper, a different story emerges. While overall print sales fell, the numbers were skewed towards those pesky paperbacks. Adult mass market paperback sales fell 30 percent compared to a fall for hardcovers of only 11 percent. Children's hardcovers fell only two percent, compared to children's paperbacks falling 17.7 percent. Consumers are moving from disposable paperbacks to online books. Is that really a bad thing? Hardcovers are more elegant, paperbacks more portable. Those who appreciate the value of a book will still buy the one that will last longer, the hardcover. Consumers accustomed to paperbacks now want the portability and ease of e-book, something they tried to get before with the paperback.
In our technological society, this change could be a boon for the industry, much the way the internet was for music. The shift to the internet brought along the rise of indie music, and smaller bands producing high-quality music. Would that be a bad thing for book industry? One could look at Amazon's self publishing feature on the Kindle as but a first step towards that innovation of the industry. Author John Locke (real name? I think not), recently became the first self-published author to hit 1 million sales, joining other acclaimed authors as Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, and Suzanne Collins.
The move to e-books, via the iPhone, iPad, or Kindle, could even increase book reading across the world. And the desire to have a tangible book wouldn't disappear. I think it would be hard to deny that having a book on your shelf provides aesthetic pleasure and a feeling that e-books just can't convey. Losing that would be tragic. Much like vinyl records however, hardcover sales would still likely thrive, if only as a niche market for the enthusiast.
So ignore all the talk of the book industry dying. Think of it merely as a necessary change in an ever-evolving society. A caterpillar waiting to blossom into a butterfly, if you will, or a Phoenix rising from ashes, more brilliant than ever before.