Digital killed the physical star

Authors and publishing experts discuss the digitisation of the publishing industry and the exciting crossroad that we’re at.

Replacing the physical books

Digital: The new form of reading










For the first time since the invention of the printing press, America recorded higher digital sales than physical copies in February 2011. With the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad doubling up as ebook-readers, its not rare for a UK child to not have a book.

‘Digital is the most exciting thing to have happened in many many generations for publishing,’ says John Mitchinson, a former publisher with over two decades of experience in the trade. His views are echoed by Dr James Pope, a media lecturer at Bournemouth University, who firmly believes that, in the years to come, books will come alive with interactivity.

The success of authors like Amanda Hocking and the recent announcement by author J.K.Rowling proves that digital publishing is a huge arena that publishers are keen to take full advantage of.

The problem of piracy

But author Andy McDermott, who has just sold his millionth physical copy, believes that because things have mushroomed so fast, publishers face the challenge of systemising the process, so that things don’t get out of hand, like it did with the music industry:

Decreasing attention spans

But why are we becoming an increasingly digitised population?

‘Our attention spans are shifting. We want more immediacy and a bigger impact more quickly. That affects how we interpret things as well. It’s just human life evolving,’ says Tricia Walker whose book Benedict’s Brother is being converted into a movie.

But Dr Pope believes that we don’t have shorter attention spans, it’s just a matter of what keeps us interested: ‘If people did have shorter attention spans, then no one would go and watch a film because they last for about 2-3 hours. It’s just that the media and our behaviour have changed alongside each other.’

Mitchinson believes this will not affect the power of a good narrative: ‘Short attention span is part of the human condition. The modern age may have accentuated it because there are a lot more things to do but I don’t think it spells the end of the narrative. Things are adapting and changing and this is a good thing.’

Does this mean books are dead?

Mitchinson, one of the brains behind Unbound, says that digital books are not killing the physical copies. ‘What will happen is that physical copies will make great gifts, especially if they are beautifully bound and typeset, or else, they will have to be signed as collectible first editions.’

The rest of the authors on the panel, too, agree that digitized books and interactive websites are the way forward and that physical copies of books may just become collectable items.

McDermott, however, says that there will always be the rare exceptions: ‘One in 10 films actually makes a profit by Hollywood standards. But the profits they make are enough to make up for the nine that don’t. It looks like the book industry is headed that way.’

He adds, ‘There are obvious superstars like (J.K.) Rowling and (Dan) Brown who are guaranteed mega-sellers. The amount they make gives their publishers the confidence to put out things and take a risk with it.’ But, he, too, agrees that we are on the cusp of a digital revolution.

Mitchinson sums it up best saying, ‘Apps are redefining books and how one would read and interact with the text. It’s like Cortez looking out over the Pacific. We are right at the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s much bigger than even the invention of a paperback. This digital revolution really is like Gutenberg all over again.’


About Sherwin Coelho

MA Multimedia Journalism student at Bournemouth University. This website is my Masters production project. The aim of this project is to focus on technology and how it is changing the landscape for publishers and artists because of the death of newspapers, magazines, books, CDs and DVDs. Some may argue to the contrary, but I’ll aim to explore how fast the game is changing, what people think of it and whether it is a good or bad thing.

Posted on June 22, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. No matter what you say on the print media.I agree that print media world over is crumbling to Electronic media.Sadly which i fail to admit most times.But in India print media will be there for at least another century,which i can say without doubt as India is still an economy that is agrarian and Indians cant afford a computer but certainly can afford a newspaper.FYI a yearly newspaper subscription in India will cost about a 300 rs while a monthly iPad app of the same newspaper will cost 1500 rs.If you can still reduce the price of the iPad app.I am sure people will still choose the newspaper.

  2. Books are more relaxing and less fragile. Electronics can give up on you and you might end up spending 10 hours of flight journey either watching some videos you’d never other would like to watch.

    But the world is going digital and having a digital version of books will be handy only if it’s not meant to over-power the market of books in it’s original state.

    That said,your blog post looks well researched and written. raises a lot of questions in the mind of the readers, which is a good thing. Especially liked the “are books dead” bit..

  3. Having been an avid reader since my childhood in the 1950’s in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), I still read books even though I have an Amazon Kindle and a Samsung Galaxy Tablet of my own. There is certainly a difference in reading between the print and the bytes. Both may give you the end result of absorbing what you read, yet each has its own flavor which are, both, distinctly different to one another. May I say, like Baskin Robbins ice cream. I do find the convenience of the e-reader very useful and convenient. Books are heavy to carry everywhere, too. In any case, I doubt books will die, across the globe, in the next 50 years. Yes, the typewriter went off the air as soon as the PC was born. But books cannot be killed so easily, in my view.

  4. Nice article, Sherwin. And I especially like the title. But just like video didn’t really kill the radio star, I don’t think even something as exciting as a Kindle or I-Pad can completely wipe out books. People like the look, feel and even smell of books. There are many people who loyally adhere to books despite owning one of these gadgets. Maybe this is just a trend that will die out like those 80s hairdos? Also it is scary for me to think that books which have been central to learning and have been around for centuries will go extinct like the dinosaurs.

  5. I tried reading e-books, online news but there’s a certain penchant to the newspapers and novels which will take some time…

  6. Its pretty simple
    people are spending more time with digital formats and devices are far more capable and only growing in capacity, capability and ubiquity
    The bar on publishing is coming down – anyone can be a publisher and not necessarily needs a publishing house to haggle with
    Many people have expert knowledge but were not writers in the traditional sense but with new technology they have the tools to publish high quality content and many are doing it for the passion and for free access. This is something traditional media will have to understand and find ways to produce at low cost
    Many people will still like books in paper but they will fade fast and at some point the volume to produce paper will become non-economical
    Digital is more green and I would promote digital over print
    Publishers need to realize they are in the business of media and not print media
    They just need to realize that there is more pressure for high quality if they want to charge for access to content and cold experiment with freemium models with a mix of low cost production and exclusive paid content for high cost content
    Lastly @alpahadiver – book is not a stack of papers but a river of words and sentences and nothing will get lost just because he format changes. People usedto write on leaves and we have those preserved to somewhat decent extent and today e have certainly better tools to preserve the content

  7. Nice article

  8. Quite informative and addresses the subject quite comprehensively. A very good and interesting read overall.

  9. Amazing blog about a problem that is actually quite close to my heart. Is the art of book reading really dying? Can we not make time any more to flip the pages manually or must we depend on the click of the mouse. Every pros has its cons and this blog takes reader into a healthy informed debate over the subject. Well thought of!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: