It does appear at the moment that every broadsheet is running an article on how the Kindle is killing off books and that soon either paper books or the option of earning a living as an author is about disappear.
There are a number of flaws in this argument. The first is that the Kindle is a product of a single company – Amazon. This company exists for one purpose only, to record maximum profit for its shareholders. Note the way that they seamlessly moved from selling books into stocking almost anything that they could sell on. They also morphed themselves into a kind of ebay type entity by making a profit out of their competitors. This is akin to having the printing presses all in the control of one company. There objective is not to spread knowledge and understanding. Nor is it to store up knowledge for the future. Which brings me on to Google books who appear to be doing this. But again they are a company who’s sole objective is to make profits. In the last few years of recession I have seen names like Woolworths and MFI vanish from the high street into insolvency. Who’s to say that Amazon and Google will fare any better in the future.
Indeed, if you look back into the past then the oldest book in the country is around 1,400 years old. Aside from the church and the monarchy I can think of no other institutions that have lasted that long. I certainly wouldn’t expect to see the likes of Amazon and Google around in a few hundred years, never mind a thousand.
I think the big factor that has been overlooked in all these articles is the rise of Print on Demand. If you pick up a book, you now have no way of knowing if it is a POD book that had five copies printed in a year, or if it is a million selling best-seller. This truly does level the playing field. It reminds me of the moment when Daniel Beddingfield had his first number one single with a track he recorded in his bedroom and released himself using the internet. He sidestepped the middle men and got direct access to his audience. It reminds me of the changes happening in religion and spirituality. Increasingly people are directly accessing their religion and not allowing priests to mediate for them.
In the world of publishing, authors can, using the two allied technologies of print on demand and the social networks of the internet both produce their own books and market them to an audience. This is a double edged sword of course, because it means the market is being flooded with dross and it is harder to find the jewels in the mud. But, to return to my original point, it is not, I believe, the death of books. But I think it is a major shift in the whole structure of publishing is underway. I think we’re seeing the end of the old ways of offering authors big advances and publishing deals. No longer will it be necessary to put contracts in place to support the huge cost of printing up thousands of books in advance. It will instead be possible to respond to requests for books by either shipping out electronic copies, or printing physical books as and when they are needed.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me, please comment and share and let me know what you think!