Are books dying, dead or evolving?

What does the future hold? A printed page? A kindle? Or both?

In the age of the internet, ebooks, kindles, Ipads, and wifi everywhere – there is a loud voice crying the demise of the book. This prophecy appears everywhere and it is being spread by drinkers of the dead book Koolaid cult. Whether these drinkers have invested any original thought is an altogether different question.

As an entrepreneur, I have the dubious pleasure of being asked what I do whenever I am introduced to someone. The conversation normally goes like this:

Tim: “I run a book printing company”
Them: *blank and slightly incredulous stare*

Tim: (I decide to push on) “I started it officially last year, and it ran as a trading name of my father’s company for a year before that”
Them: (insightful question time) “how is it going?”
Tim: “Quite well, it’s tough balancing cashflow with a growing business, it is not easy growing any business.”

Them: *still with the blank stare, growing in incredulousness*
Them: (another insightful question) “so you don’t think books are dead?”

Normally at this point I have lost them completely… they are so entrenched in their belief that I am an idiot for not sipping ebook Koolaid… nothing I say could help, I may as well discuss how Apes may well soon read books and that is our backup target market.

If you would like to decide for yourself rather than just join the latest cult, this is my prediction.

It is going to take a whole lot longer for anything to happen than most people think… things will change slowly over 10-20 years. Fact: E-book sales currently account for 14% of consumer spending on books. (

Why did all the book shops close then, that was fast and sudden? Well either they were poorly managed businesses (there are lots of businesses, closing also). Or it could have had something to do with online shopping. 44% of book spending was done online. Note, online doesn’t mean they purchased ebooks just that they spent their dollar through a website instead of your quaint neighbourhood bookshop.

Percentage of consumer book spend per book type and channel.
Ebooks (majority purchased online)14%
Printed books (purchased online)30%
Printed books (purchased offline: book stores, airports, etc.)56%

*my apologies that this is American data, not New Zealand (

The data show consumer buying habits have moved online, this is the webstore boom which called the end to brick and mortar retail stores this was the Koolaid talking point in the year 2000. Now we are 14 years down the track and 44% of this industry’s consumer purchasing has switched to online.

The first Amazon Kindle was released in 2007, and the first Apple Ipad in April 2010. In 2014 we are unto 14% of consumer spending going to ebooks. Will this grow? Yes definitely. How fast? A much harder question to answer. But it depends on badly we consumers want to read on our e-reader vs a printed book. Which do you prefer?

Growth in reading on an e-reader doesn’t indicate that they prefer the reading experience of an ebook. There are many factors why people choose ebooks/e-readers portability and the cost of books being two driving factors. If those are the two driving factors whenever portability and cost are not considered important it would seem logical a printed book would be the first choice. Which do you prefer when you travel? How about at the bach? As a gift? For a book you love? Or a book you have to skim once? A book you want to constantly refer back to?

Enter the cookbook. Big. Beautiful. Heavy. Expensive. It is hard to find facts, but in the UK this is a growing market. What is that… a growing market, printed cookbooks are experiencing growth. 3%.. not a huge number but a positive number. (

This I believe is the long-term future of the printed book. Big beautiful and expensive. Would you buy an expensive printed book if you want to quickly take in the story of your latest novel? Probably not. You would download it, read it, file it. However, you may want to purchase the hardcover, embellished, and personally signed pre-release limited edition, even though it costs $149 and is bulky and impractical… but beautiful and will take its’ place of pride in your bookshelf.

Your bookshelf of the future by the way is filled with hardcover, beautifully typeset books filled with gorgeous images. Bookshelves will once again be positioned prominently in lounges, dens, and libraries. Stocked with a careful selection of treasured books, each one bound with leather, cloth, or laminated print. You can open any one of them to mindfully typeset pages, on paper stocks you want to rub on your face. Gone will be stacks of cheap mass-market paperbacks filled with trashy writing and worse design.

How long will it take? Who knows, but it is not today and not tomorrow.

Keep learning