I Am Internet, Hear Me Roar! How the Web Is Transforming or Destroying Your Favorite Medium [Books]

3182738956_88e1ced884Books: Death of the Paperback?

New technology has clearly had an effect on the book industry, but we are still a long way away from seeing this old-school medium fade away into the midst. On one hand, Internet copying of written materials is the easiest of them all – any reader who is willing to retype of scan a book onto the web can do so with ease, there’s nothing stopping you or I from opening up Word and typing ourselves a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (although it’s an insanely boring idea).

On the other hand, for a lot of books, especially lengthy novels and narratives, reading off a computer screen is more of a hassle than a convenience – good luck getting through a Charles Dickens piece with your Twitter, email, and iTunes folder open – it’s too distracting, and it takes away from the overall experience. Experience is the key here – there  is something very tangible and comforting (with books more so than other mediums) that cannot be duplicated or replicated through the use of technology. Yes, some people swear on e-book reader’s like the Kindle, but in the grand scheme of things, people still prefer the simple, cheap, paperback book.

One of the main problems the book industry is facing is the dramatic decline in out-of-bookstore sales of books. Think about it, how often do you see books being sold outside of your local Barnes & Noble or Borders? These are great stores, but someone only goes into a B&N if they are planning on buying a book. The trouble is, how does the industry draw in people who otherwise would never walk through the door of a bookstore? Second – society overall has serious ADD, we are mega-multi-taskers and speaking from personal experience, I feel like I have almost no time to clear my head and sit down with a good book (I know, I know – I have to MAKE time). Third – the industry relies heavily on schools purchasing and requiring books as part of their curriculum, but with classes being offered online and with the state of the environment (people using less paper) sales overall are continuing to see a decline.

But with the bad, the technology can bring a lot of good (it’s not all about destroying – transforming can be good)! It doesn’t cost much to write a novel (at least in a monetary sense – now if we’re talking the time invested, whole different story). And, with advancements in technology, it’s costing less and less to produce and print. Even more, the net makes it easy to market a novel and get it into the hands of people who want to read it. The web can shed light on the non-readers, driving a whole new demographic into their local distributors. It may seem obvious, but it’s rarely done – books need to be sold where the people are. It’s time for publishers and distributors to think outside the box and (again, a reoccuring theme) use technology to their advantage instead of combating it. Sell your book about changing the world at a local green event, pitch a tent at a marathon or 5k and sell your book on fitness + dieting. You get the idea – think outside the box, USE technology to your advantage, it’s not such a bad thing after all.

What are your thoughts on the book industry? Is technology a major factor in the overall decline in sales? Will we see the common textbooks used in higher education replaced by online study materials? How can technology be harnessed to drive sales?

[Tomorrow: Music – Battling the ‘Power of Free’]


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One Response
  • Suzanne Shaffer Reply

    Matt,
    I do believe that technology has opened doors for authors. It’s so easy now to get your work out to the masses and even published for very little. As with music, the internet is giving unknowns the opportunity to get read and heard, when it used to be an uphill battle to get the ear of a publisher.

    As far as books being replaced by electronic media, I can’t ever see that happening. Books (and don’t laugh) are my friends. I hold each of the ones I possess near and dear to my heart. If there was a fire, I’d grab my copy of The Prophet by Peretti and my original copy of Little Men by Alcott. They hold so many memories inside their pages.

    College curriculum? I think it would be great to have ALL of it online. Most of those books are astronomically expensive and get sold back to the bookstores after the classes are done. Not only would it save trees, but help parents with college costs.

    Great series of articles, BTW!
    Suzanne

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