Print’s not dead, so what’s next for it? [Winning blog idea March]

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Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. March’s winner was Percie Edgeler who writes about the future of the print book. 

For the past few years, there has been a rallying cry around the advent of the ebook: print is dead. Since 2015 however there has been a decline in ebook sales, and whilst some are predicting a return to steady growth, one has to question if this is possible whilst they continue to maintain the same format. Currently the big five are taking relatively few risks, and independent publishers have been spearheading a print revival which with the increase in print book sales has paid off. For consumers that are continually choosing both, the roles of the digital and the physical have changed.

Whilst the book industry is focusing on the colouring in fad to boost their sales, the magazine industry is increasingly taking risks to innovate their approach to print. At the same time as The Bookseller showed a 3% decrease in e-book sales in 2016, the magazine industry saw a 12.5% digital drop, with well-known brands such as BBC Good Food, National Geographic and Cosmo taking the biggest hit. In comparison, independent print magazines are growing. At QVED 2014, Jeremy Leslie of MagCulture addressed the issue directly when being asked about the death of print, retorting to a questioner “How can print be dead with such an abundance of independent titles flourishing day to day?”

The industry does indeed seem to be flourishing: the founding of new titles such as the aptly named Print Isn’t Dead and growth of existing independents such as Little White Lies and Oh Comely all seem to be positive signs.

But why are these independent magazines seeing a boom, and can the print book industry follow suit?

Some publishers already are, with part of the attraction being premium content and production value. These two key components can be seen in the popular UK independent Nobrow Press, who expanded to open a New York office in 2013. Their highly illustrated books continue to gain popularity for having an emphasis on design and illustration whilst remaining affordable. These editions are a stand out in an age where the internet does throwaway information for free and at high speed.

This in itself may kill some kinds of print. Ruth Jamieson, author of Print is Dead, Long Live Print, stipulated last year that digital media has cleared the way for a new, much more interesting, much more exciting print to spring up. In 2014, this decision to carefully curate high-quality content also paid off for independent New York magazine PAPER, who had to print an extra 35,000 copies of their September 2014 issue to keep up with the demand for the latest issue featuring Kim Kardashian.

In the words of I-D editor Colin Crummy, “Kim Kardashian’s bum may have broken the internet in November 2014, but it was a magazine cover that helped her do it.”

Despite this, some still seem to think that despite current high sales, print is simply enjoying a brief rebirth and as such the future for it is not so bright. Print hasn’t changed enough to compete with the behemoth of the e-book. Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House, stated the same year in the Creative UK report that our creative industries are at the centre of a digital transformation of our economy; predicting that ebooks would become a total of 35% of the market share in two years. Whilst this has not happened, some remain hopeful that they will return to growth, but this is not happening as quickly as expected. It may be that what becomes interesting is behaviour towards the print and digital changing so that the two are sitting together; and how as an industry, publishing continues to allow new innovation for both.

It’s time to change the nature of the conversation around print. Ebooks are a new medium, not the death of the traditional. Instead of asking if print is dead, we should be questioning what we can do with it next.

Percie Edgeler is a MA Publishing student at Kingston University, and a graduate of the BA Illustration course at Camberwell College of Arts where she gained first hand experience in producing different types of print. She is particularly interested in independent publishing, and how this sector will influence the future of print books.

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  1. Print books –v- e/iBooks : Hardbooks are as much a threat to eBooks as stairs are to elevators!

    I would in no way wish to denounce the printed book! There is nothing nicer than handling the tactile, that is the book. I am of a generation that has grown with printed books from school to college to Uni, to work & leisure but I am a realist that, like all of us, we are witnessing a new era where technology, like of loath), is introducing a new format that is the eBook.

    In a number of ways I find this exciting in that it has opened up a new world to people who would not otherwise read books, neigh even access books in third worlds and where literacy is an important part of reading to learn, and by this learning to write!

    It should not pose a threat. We have witnessed where huge companies such HMV who maintain a stance of tradition in records and CD’s and initially would not embrace the technology that was mp3’s and when for bust because of it. The publishing industry should have already learnt its lesson when it maintained a stance of hard production print when the embryo of technology broad in Desk Top Publishing and because of that we sadly saw the major part of the print industry diminished.

    ePub, ida, or whatever the format will eventually be, (again almost like the ‘70s argument of Betamax verses VHS), this increases the range and depth of books being published and opens up the exciting prospects of so much for future generations.

    Both formats are here to stay but I can envisage a 22nd Century where print books in the home will become less, mostly as an aesthetic piece of décor to create a conversational piece at dinner parties, (reduce space and dust cleaning), and confined to the tablet. Libraries will follow to reduce costs and able to offer a great range via a major database.

    It is not what I am advocating, nor necessarily what I want – but it is the future and if both formats are to continue, they need to embrace each other and co-exist. The alternative is neither good for the publishing industry and certainly not for the ardent readers!

    1. Owen, did you read this article? This is pretty much what was being said, it’s not about it being a threat but where print can go whilst sales are increasing. The final sentence even states ‘ebooks are a new medium, not the death of the traditional.’ Useful read for a self-published author thinking about print copies, well done Bookmachine!

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