What are you doing right now? This isn’t a trick question; I’m just making a point. What are you doing right now? You are reading this blog online, most likely on a tablet, smartphone or a PC. The reason I asked was I wanted you to think about that for a second, what amount of literature do you read online? Do you think it has increased over the past few years?
In most cases the answer will be a resounding yes, peoples reading habits have changed with the advent of the internet but also with the arrival of tablets, smartphones, eBook readers, kindles and so on. These devices have changed the way we view literature online, they have made it more accessible and portable, how many people do you see on their commute in the morning reading such a device? I would hazard a guess and say quite a few, in a recent study by Amazon, it was garnered that for every 100 printed books sold there was 114 eBooks also sold, a slender lead it has to be said but a lead nonetheless. It is estimated that 56% of Americans now own smartphones alone, this is not accounting for tablets and ereaders, mobiles now account for 12% of media consumption by Americans, triple that of 2009.
In fact as recent as 2009 it was estimated that the most popular device to read eBooks was a PC. The introduction of the aforementioned devices has caused the trend to pivot rapidly. When you consider the unrivalled iron grip on this traditional market the printed word held for centuries, then you can start to appreciate the seismic shift that has been going on around us for the last few years and is showing no sign of abating.
Thinking green and thinking lean
The ‘green’ element also has to be factored in; the advancements of online publishing will hopefully have a positive effect on our environmental impact. While advancements have been made in recyclable materials for printed literature, there is no comparison with it and the environmental impact of online publishing
I myself would have been a big fan of the printed word, I still am, but in recent years I have noticed even my own habits changing, whereas once I would have bought multiple newspapers every day, I now buy one a week, on a Sunday and even that is for the coffee table, more of a comfort Sunday type of read. All of the information I used to gather through these newspapers I now get in minutes online, news aggregators like 3D Issue Hub have filled the vocabularic needs of the masses, with a simple rss algorithm we can now systematically scan headlines and stories to see what interest us the most, this is not only a great time saver but also a good way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, we can now instantly gather what interest us and then delve deeper into the stories that we find of interest.
Down but not out
As with every debate though, there are always two sides to the story. The rise of tablets, eBook readers and smartphones may have changed the face of publishing interminably but this doesn’t mean that the printed word will vanish altogether, not at all. Printed literature will always have a place on our shelves so to speak, for numerous reasons, books are a physical entity, you can pass a book on, give them as a gift, I’m not so sure giving someone a link to an eBook would have the same desired effect. People will always have preferences, some may appreciate the physical properties a book offers over eBooks, some may prefer to have the bookshelves which they can mull over and leaf through, there is no right and no wrong, more a case of personal taste.
It could be argued that printed literature will itself evolve in the face of digital media; it’s quite possible that it could become a more premium alternative to eBooks, retaining its status but more so as a specialized, niche market. Who knows, in future it could be the case that books in people’s homes could be viewed as a cultural statement, a mantle to be viewed with awe in an age where the vast majority of literature is of the digital kind. Seem preposterous? Try telling the average man twenty years ago we would be reading books, making video calls, taking and posting photographs online, all on the one device, and you would have got an exasperated reaction!
Publishing online and the traditional printed word
So, it is without any semblance of doubt that we can now say that publishing online is more than just a trend, it has now become a way of life for many of us. Certain segments will want and will continue to demand print but there is no doubt that the digital version will offer greater targeting and scientific based marketing based on content curation.
It could and should be that digital and print will evolve together, partnerships can and are being forged resulting in online versions of printed material that are offered on a subscription basis. The end user experience could also be expanded to include engagement and dialogues, offering new enriched experiences for the consumer. Print is not going to go away anytime soon, but this is only a part of the debate, digital is still growing and evolving, print is not. Digital is still morphing, expanding and ultimately becoming better at what it does. Print has already reached its zenith.
One should not be looked upon as a threat to the other, handled correctly they could dovetail and complement each other, feed from one another. Thomas Edison didn’t worry about candle makers when he invented the light bulb, the candle makers had to pivot and think of their marketplace differently, the same can be said of digital and traditional printing.
The final say in this matter may be not between digital and print but on the relevance of the content.