The changing values of physical books in a multichannel landscape


There is no Super Thursday in the world of magazines and content. Every day is D-Day (discussion day) as brands, agencies, newspapers, media owners struggle with the quest for the Holy Grail of integrated multichannel content.

Hello Super Thursday

Thursday 10th October is Super Thursday in the world of book publishing. It’s the day when traditionally publishing houses release their best titles for the Christmas market.

Soon is never too soon, as we know in the world of magazines where cooking a turkey in mid August for a Best-Ever-Christmas-Dinner is the norm.

The future of the physical book

I digress. The occasion of Super Thursday was marked by a calm, post-breakfast discussion on Radio 4’s Today programme between Waterstone’s Chief Exec James Daunt and author and critic Alexandra Heminsley about the future of the physical book.  E-book sales have shown a decline in the rate of growth in recent months leaving physical books – or paper books, as I more lyrically prefer to call them – the market dominant.

The reason for this shift, the discussion concluded, is that the paper book has a different purpose to the e-book. While the e-book is convenient, particularly for travellers, the paper-book has tremendous tactile appeal. You can take it to what I like to call the 3Bs – bath, beach and bog – very easily.

The way readers perceive electronic and paper books differently is leading to some interesting changes in the book markets.

“People are moving to e-readers for paperbacks…high-end art and style books are having to raise their game,” explained Heminsley.

One of the major sectors for e-book purchases is romantic fiction, whereas more literary books are having to put more emphasis on cover design and tactile values.

Searchability of physical books

Daunt explained the impact that the emergence of the e-book was having on book shops.
“E-readers are more convenient, but the pleasure of being in a bookshop can’t be denied.”

The world of the bookshop is proving appealing to a wide age spectrum, he explained. Adults and children enjoy the experience of going into a good bookshop and browsing. Indeed, he argued, buying books online was a challenge. Much easier to go into a physical shop and pick them up, scan, see what you think before purchasing.

Both had absolute confidence in the survival and continuing appeal of good old fashioned paper books. They pointed out that readers are not either ‘e-readers’ or ‘paperbook’ readers but both, according to their context and preferences.

What do the stats tell us?

Sales of physical books in the Nielsen BookScan UK Total Consumer Market survey do show a decline in 2012, with value sales down 4.6% year-on-year, and volume sales down 3.4%. However, this decline is less severe than in 2011, when value sales declined 6.3% and volumes were down 7.2% on the previous year.

E-books are still taking share from printed books, as overall trade sales declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but e-book growth is now viewed as being somewhat anaemic and industry commentators are calling into question the strength of the so-called “digital revolution” in the book business. E-books currently represent a bit less than 25 percent of total book sales.

Maybe its in our brains, stupid

In his series of books The Shallows, Nicholas Carr looks at the question of whether the internet is making us stupid. He asks, as we enjoy the many benefits of the net, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

He explores the evidence that the brain technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally re-route our neural pathways. His hypothesis is that the internet encourages rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources.

While we are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. So, the argument goes, if this is case does it affect the way we e-read. Do our rewired brains prefer using a tablet to perform multiple shallow tasks simultaneously, rather than immersing ourselves in the depths and pleasures of an e-book read?

Do you think I have read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains(2010) or The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (2011).  I confess. I have skim-read various articles which mention it and read the reviews on Amazon. But while I was on Amazon reading the reviews I decided to buy a novel. I will read this at my leisure and be completely immersed in it on my iPad (and sometimes my Kindle).

Are we content with content?

There is no Super Thursday in the world of magazines and content. Every day is D-Day (discussion day) as brands, agencies, newspapers, media owners struggle with the quest for the Holy Grail of integrated multichannel content.

The discussions around paper versus e-books touch on many of the same aspects that are raised in relation to content:

  • Information versus entertainment.
  • Flitting versus immersion.
  • Valued versus Just-Another-Digital Freebie.

And we continue to ask many questions.

Is it only adults who enjoy reading? Will our children pick up something to read that is not a text, Instagram, Facebook or Tweet?

Consumers of content are not either digital consumers or non-digital consumers. They are both according to their lifestyle, wants and pleasures.

As I listened to the book discussion on Today, I enact the multi-device, multi-channel experience.  I was running a bath in which I intended to flick through my favourite (print) magazine then answer some emails on my phone.

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