End of the Line for the Printed Word

End of the Line for the Printed WordI have just driven a fair distance down the length of Florida to the Keys for a short vacation far away from the British winter. And I have seen a significant number of book stores closed and vacant – including my favourite USA chain that also used to sell good coffee.

It’s not often that I get to relax totally, so I’ve made the most of this past week – spending hours by a swimming pool where I could reflect on many aspects of the past year.

One trend was highlighted again today. Of eight people sunbathing and reading around the pool, only two had paper books – and one of those was me. My excuse is that I had been running a conference in Miami and was given a book on quantum mechanics. Otherwise there would have only been one paper book in evidence.

The situation by the pool reinforced a series of observations garnered on trains, planes and boats where the number of ebook readers outnumbered paperbacks and hardbacks.

Market statistics show an accelerating decline in paper book sales of 34 per cent year on year, while ebook sales are growing exponentially and are more than tripling year on year.

So the question is have we reached the tipping point in the demise of the printed book? I certainlyreached the end of the road with books some time ago. I stopped buying and reading paper books and started insisting on electronic versions. To my delight authors mostly supply electronic copies if they want to engage you in reviewing, editing, commenting or contributing.

As far as I can see the paper book will be relegated to the same shelves as the vinyl record within the next five years. Exponential change is like that – faster than we care to recognise.

Of course, you will still be able to purchase paper books if you are so inclined. After all, you can still find eight-track audio tape and 16rpm records. But the market and the money have moved on with the technology – how could they do otherwise?

So one tip for 2012: don’t buy books as gifts. Give ebook subscriptions, and your friends and family will love you for it.

image credit: uclafacultyassociation.com


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Peter CochranePeter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. His career in telecom, IT and academia spans 40 years including CTO and Head of Research at BT and the UK’s first Professor for the public Understanding of Science and Technology. Peter’s work can be found at www.cochrane.org.uk

Peter Cochrane

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No Comments

  1. David Marquet on January 9, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    For ebooks to really be satisfying we need the ability to scratch in the margins, circle words and make smily-faces. Till then…..

    • Sophie Davis on January 10, 2012 at 6:37 am

      I completely agree!
      Reading ebooks on a device isn’t the same experience as reading a book on paper.
      I wonder if there are studies on how people read ebooks and paper books differently. I’d be curious to see what the behavioral differences are!

  2. Peter Cochrane on January 10, 2012 at 8:32 am

    David Marquet = Buy and iPad and get the right software 🙂 Peter

  3. Peter Cochrane on January 10, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Sophie Davis = Well let’s see reading a letter isn’t the same as reading an email or a TXT/IM – and just look at how much time has been wasted studying that. I’m sure some academics will waste some more lifetime on the eBook, Paper Book opportunity. I remember when we graduated from stone to clay tablets +++ just the same 🙂 Peter

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