E-books: Doom or Opportunity?
AN ANCIENT saying attributed to Chinese author, philosopher and general Sun Tzu offers great insight into the attitude the printing industry should take toward electronic readers, smart phones and iPads: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. In other words, it pays to know your enemy (and, if necessary, put him to work for you).
Fact of the matter is, printing has been under attack almost from the moment that Johannes Gutenberg kicked off the moveable type printing era in the 15th century. Radio, television, the Internet, the George Foreman grill—all the revolutions of the past 100 years—have threatened to steal away print's market share. While each revolution has been met with an evolution of print, the current wave of electronic devices—e-readers, smart phones, tablets—threatens to provide the stiffest test yet, and harvest the greatest market share.
Still, opportunities abound for printers to leverage electronic alternatives, particularly for clients who want to have multi-channel connectivity with consumers, be it in books, magazines, advertisements or direct mail. Let's face it, consumers want what they want, when they want it and how they want it presented to them. The likelihood of a single platform being recognized as the sacred cow across any segment is doubtful. To appease the masses across numerous platforms, printers need to become adept at as many technologies as possible.
The Writing is on the Wall
In the book business, the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader are three of the leading devices in the e-reader space—but by no means are they the only ones. About 10 percent of consumer trade book sales are digital, and certainly much of that growth can be attributed to hard-core readers who are taking advantage of another outlet to satiate their thirst for literature.
Perhaps the greater impact is seen in the offset vs. digital printing battle, with book publishers increasingly seeking shorter runs and going back on press more frequently in an effort to do away with the dreaded inventorying and waste. Digital printing enables shorter run lengths that are simply not cost-feasible with conventional printing. Converting hard copy into digital formats has become a modest revenue generator for many book manufacturers.