The very gloomy NEA report on reading had me (almost) rethinking this whole bookstore thing. And then, I stumbled on the London-based Bookseller's Association new report -- Embracing the Digital Age. Just the subtitle made me feel better: An Opportunity for Booksellers and the Book Trade.
Written by Francis Bennett and Michael Holdsworth and released last week, it give a glimpse into the book trade's uncertainty and fear. The industry is, daily, being changed by digitization.
The authors acknowledge that it is hard to define exactly the size of the market or the immediacy of change. But even so, it is clear to them that the book trade is entering a transforming phase.
eBook sales alone, tell us that. Just look at the graph of quarterly eBook sales over the last seven years as produced by The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).
What is less clear is how the book trade (beyond mere sales) is transforming.
It bears thinking about. The last time there was this must energy created around words and ideas was when Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century.
Gutenberg unlocked literacy and information with his press. For centuries the book has informed and entertained us. Digitization propels that notion to the next level. It takes a one dimensional object and adds to it participation, sound and movement to create a richer, multidimensional experience.
The idea that a book should continue to be a one dimensional experience is, of course, nonsense. Links, social networking, multimedia presentations and embedded advertising are daily altering our views and expectations about a digital document.
I have always loved books; that is unlikely to change anytime soon. And yet, I find myself increasing feeling claustrophobic and impatient with print. As a result, it has been a long time since I picked up a magazine or newspaper. Why bother when I get the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Publisher's Weekly on my screen with instant updates, links and feedback opportunities.
Digitization is indeed transforming the book trade. Consciously, or unconsciously, we are in the process of examining and redefining the entire concept of a book.
Printed books aren't going away any time soon. But 2008 will inexorably force authors, publishers and consumers to clarify our concept of a book. Digitization has already changed our world forever.