Some industries have feared the rise of digitalisation more than others. The book sector was particularly shocked when Amazon introduced the first Kindle in 2007 and started into a new era of digital books. Publishers felt the need to protect printed sales and would often hold back on digital publishing for a few weeks to give their paper editions a “fighting chance.”
12 years on, and the world of publishing has not changed as much as many might have thought. E-book sales have settled at a solid 20 percent of the market, a share that has remained roughly constant since 2015. Far from competing with one another, the printed and digital markets seem to happily coexist side by side.
Publishing has become digital
But not only have books become digital, book production has also moved with the times. The digital age has made publishing easier, particularly for individual manufacturers who have special needs when it comes to material planning. From 2009 to 2015 the number of independent booksellers in the US increased by 35 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association. But how were they able to survive whilst big players like Amazon pushed the Kindle?
It turned out that the digitalisation that they feared in the beginning actually became their benefit. Nowadays many smaller publishers have implemented tailor-made software such as an MRP system to lower their production costs. MRP stands for Manufacturing Resource Planning and is used for automating stock and inventory transactions – such as bookings, valuations, write-offs and balance calculations. As this had to be done manually before and took publishers many working hours, the use of this tool has given booksellers more independency and power to compete.
Therefore, a bigger variety of publishers who specialise in niche demands can adjust the MRP system according to their needs. In the long run, it also comes in handy for authors who may find it easier to find an interested publisher for their manuscript.
Will the future of books be completely digital?
After years of paperbacks and e-books competing it seems that the answer to that question has to be “no”. There has to be a middle ground that meets the readers’ needs as well as the publishers’ expectations. While publishing e-books is less hassle for wholesalers, new technologies and tailor-made software has made the manufacturing of books easier. This helps as readers still love having a physical copy of a book despite the obvious convenience and variety that comes with an e-reader.
The continued sales of physical books show that a lot of people do not want to stop reading paperbacks. The physical copy gives the reader a feeling of achievement when reading through a story and turning the pages.
On the other hand, it is hard to beat e-books when it comes to travel. Taking a hard copy on a trip is definitely not so convenient. An e-reader gives the consumer access to his or her personal library and does not force the reader to make a choice. E-books are often cheaper than a paperback copy and do not take up any space in the shelves at home. Public libraries particularly benefit a lot from this invention since it relieves them from the ever-growing pressure of obtaining more physical copies of academic journals and books.
It is guaranteed that traditional books are not going to disappear any time soon. But at the same time the digital form is meeting the needs of a whole different generation of reader that likes to have books available wherever they go. Ultimately, if the digitalisation leads to more books being published and more people reading them, that can only be a good thing for everyone.
Markus lives in San Francisco, California and is the video game and audio expert on Good e-Reader! He has a huge interest in new e-readers and tablets, and gaming.