Thursday, 19 April 2012

L is for...


Another guest blog today from David McGowan, the author of The Hunter Inside, a psychological thriller due for release in Spring 2012. His blog can be found at and is well worth a read.

When it was predicted, a couple of years ago, that the day would come that eBooks sold more copies than physical books, the laughter emanating from the major booksellers boardrooms could be heard the length and breadth of this, and many other, countries.
Like many others, I found it difficult to believe that anyone would ever rather read a book on a computer screen than have an actual copy of a book in their hands. But I hadn’t envisioned the rise and success of the Kindle, iPad et al, and the huge impact they would have on the market.
So now, I’m reading articles about how eBooks are actually outselling print books – and this isn’t just because of Indie authors publishing their own work at little cost to themselves or their readers. I’m talking about actual bestsellers that are selling more copies of the eBook version than the print version. Titles like The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) - Yahoo Article
Scary, isn’t it? Well, for booksellers it certainly should be. We see a lawsuit pertaining to Apple and publishers allegedly fixing eBook prices through collusion. Alison Flood (The Guardian) worries that Amazon will monopolise the industry if the Department of Justice’s lawsuit is successful - Apple article in The Guardian.
So, rock bottom prices on best-selling titles maybe? Without competition? Offset by the lower production and distribution costs, and selling more devices like the Kindle as a result – thus continuing a vicious circle that cuts out, at the very bottom of the bookselling ladder, the traditional bookshop.
Much like the digital music revolution that saw many high street music retailers closing down, there is now a definite threat to booksellers.
As for libraries, well, funding cuts lead to staffing cuts. Staffing cuts lead to skeleton services and in turn the service that is offered goes backwards instead of progressing – something which accreditation schemes certainly do not favour. Public Libraries News outlines some of the cuts in the south of the United Kingdom at Public Libraries News Article.
Libraries are seen as an easy target when funding cuts are announced or when council taxes are frozen. Which way do libraries go? In tough economic times, many libraries must find ways of raising revenue to find a foothold in an ever increasingly challenged marketplace. At the University library where I work part-time, you are welcomed into the foyer by an extortionately priced Starbucks. Now, I don’t know where undergraduate students get their money from, but apparently this has been a massive success. So, let’s turn the whole library into a Starbucks hey? Well, why not?
Libraries, and certainly higher education libraries, are constantly searching for ways to incorporate more space for computers into their services. Students sitting on stairways studying in groups is not good for a University’s image, and is certainly not good in terms of health and safety regulations. So, do libraries become more like cyber cafes? Rows and rows of computers, with expensive coffee and cake, and librarians sat on a high chair at one end like a lifeguard waiting for someone to have a problem with formatting.
A lot of bookshops have gone down the coffee shop road – selling overpriced goods in an attempt to keep the wolf from the door.
But is it really that desperate? Can we ever see a time when printed books are no longer published, and bookshops and libraries are a thing of the past? I think not, but I do think that print on demand titles and collector’s editions will become much more popular in the future, and libraries will continue to see less physical stock in favour of more computers and provision of eBooks. It won’t be long before eBook readers totally dominate the market and are developed into supersmart beings – capable of much more than just letting you read a book on them. I, for one, have never left a bank card marking my page in an eBook and then panicked when I couldn’t find it. And the idea of having 500, a thousand books with you at any time – well, that’s like having 1500 songs on my iPod – I love it. I put it on shuffle and skip, skip, skip through songs I don’t want to listen to!!
Maybe it comes down to more is less nowadays. We want more more more of everything and we want it to be easily accessible. If I’m a medical student, I don’t want to carry ten anatomy and physiology books around with me. Those are hernia inducing sized books. But if I can have them all on a tablet device, then whoopee, I’ve got it made. As have the publishers, who save a fortune in printing and distribution costs.
Everything points to the demise of libraries and bookshops. But libraries and bookshops have a certain sense of romance to them, don’t they? I think, even if I was to solely buy eBooks, I’d still love to browse bookshops in my lunch hour. I might even buy a coffee. I’m old fashioned though, and I would currently rather have a print book than an eBook. I might be able to take my thousands of eBooks on my Kindle on holiday to the beach, but I think my print book will handle getting sand in it much better.
My overall opinion? Bring on the eBooks, but long live print!!

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

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