I’ll be upfront in admitting that I don’t read much. I always intend to, but never actually seem to get around to it. Still, I enjoy keeping a small collection of books on the back burner. In a way, not reading them gives me something to look forward to. “I’ll get to ‘em eventually,” I sometimes remind myself, but to no avail. I’ve accepted at this point that they’ll likely reside in my second dresser drawer for years to come. That is, until I can muster the initiative to open one again.
Why the sudden introspection concerning literature, you ask? Well, during one of my recent perusals for updates on the latest trends in technology (a subject that I’m admittedly much more interested in), I came across a curious statistic. Internet retailer Amazon has reportedly hit another milestone with their champion product, the Kindle. The announcement came in conjunction with the release of their fourth quarter report for 2010.
Apparently, downloadable books for the device are now outselling paperback books on the site—not by a significant margin, but a margin nonetheless. By the end of 2010, the ratio of Kindle book downloads to paperback sales on the website was roughly 115 to 100. So, for every 100 people who purchased a traditional paperback on the site, 115 downloaded a book on their portable reader. Now, that’s interesting!
Kindle downloads were already outselling hardcovers by last summer, but now they’ve taken a bite out of softcover sales as well? Sounds to me like the publishing world is undergoing a significant change. Could this be the beginning of a new era in print? Can we even continue to call it “print”?
Well, one thing is certain: the winds of change are coming. My interest is always piqued when markets undergo serious shifts in operation, and although I’m not the bookish type, I’m curious as hell to find out whether the conventional tomes of yesteryear will be outmatched and outclassed by their newfangled, digital counterparts in the years to come.
These are only personal musings, of course, as I obviously have no idea what will happen as physical book sales continue on their steady decline. Maybe substantial price cuts (at least on hardcovers) are the solution, and maybe said cuts will boost sales figures. It would make sense, as pricing issues are an obvious determining factor when it comes to the success or failure of any product, no matter how traditional.
Of course, the book business isn’t the only one having to deal with instability these days. For example, one of the long-standing gripes that consumers have had with the modern recording industry is the extremely high cost of both physical music CDs and downloadable albums. A revamp of the music industry’s entire business model has been a topic of much debate in recent years, and it looks as though the literary world is about to experience a similar culture shock.
Not being a much of a reader, I’m trying to look at Amazon’s statistics objectively. They’re impressive as far as what they mean for the Kindle, and staggering in terms of what they could mean for the future of reading. Sure, I’m sort of a tech-buff, but I’m also a little old-fashioned at the same time, which makes it hard for me to imagine anyone not preferring the antiquated pleasures of physical books (i.e. the feel of the pages between your fingers, the duration of each novel represented in its weight, the smell of freshly pressed papyrus wafting through the air as you enjoy a riveting narrative by the lamplight, etc.). I can certainly understand why folks might opt for the streamlined, digital interface of the Kindle (or any “eBook,” for that matter)—it saves space, it’s eco-friendly, and it’s got the whole “latest and greatest” vibe going for it, but it’s a rather impersonal way to experience the written word. Ultimately, I’m just taken aback by it all. I guess part of me is hoping that conventional books will hang in there a while longer.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the consumers—as is usually the case. They’ll weigh the pros and cons and form their own collective decision. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see which direction literature ultimately takes.
What are your thoughts? Amazon has obviously done their job in bringing a viable alternative to the market, but at what cost?
Heading image from the Adman Ramblings blog at Blogspot.