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By Leigh Goessl

What is the future of printed books in a digital age?

Computers and the Internet have steadily influenced the way society operates on many levels. From a business perspective, it has drastically affected many industries, changing how business is done. Take intellectual property. As it becomes digitized, there has been an increasing number of documents, music, newspapers, TV shows, movies and games distributed in online or downloadable format. No one thinks twice about it anymore, it’s routine.

Then there’s the printed book, which will almost always make its way into the conversation about digitalization. As everything steadily goes digital, does the printed book even have a future?

Keeping up with the pace of technology

As technological advances continue to rapidly progress, new challenges arise for businesses. As a result, they must adapt. The book publishing industry is no exception and, today, it must cope with challenges that previously didn’t exist. Not unlike the music, newspaper and movie industries, it has been forced to consider new strategies in order to remain competitive and produce a profit.

As the digital age continues to move forward, is it going to be increasingly difficult for the print industry to rely on traditional business models to produce books? Or will the industry need to further widen its scope and look at the possibilities technology and the Internet have to offer?

Cost effectiveness of digital

The costs of producing a printed book are higher than those of creating a digital form and, over time, the inexpensive digital version looked as if it was becoming more feasible as a primary product, establishing a way to remain viable in the market. Information is expensive to produce, but cheap to reproduce, and duplicating book content in an electronic format is cheaper since no paper or ink is involved. Back in 1999, it was speculated that this factor would likely force the publishing industry to explore the concept of low-cost reproduction and find ways to maximize the opportunities technology has to offer in order to stay afloat in the market.

Times change, but do consumers?

Many terrific advantages have accompanied technology, but with these benefits come change, and these adjustments aren’t always easy for consumers to embrace. It’s often hard to accept different ways to do things and reading is no exception. However, the popularity of Kindles and other digital readers brings up the question of where the printed book’s future may lie. There are still traditionalists who are drawn to the feel of a good book with an attractive cover. The digital version, while convenient, just doesn’t “do it” for this market niche. Additionally, printed book readers often say e-books are tiring on the eyes.

However, as younger generations born into technology become the largest consumer population, will this change? Or will the majority prefer the convenience of downloading books on demand?

Are digital books really what the public really wants?

Between the years 2008 and 2010, sales of e-books soared a whopping 1,260 percent and print sales diminished, giving serious concern to the book industry. However, fast-forward to 2015 and many are wondering whether e-books are still really what the public wants.

Some suggest it isn’t. A 2015 article in the New York Times points out how analysts predicted e-books would surpass print by 2015, but that’s not how it played out. Last year digital sales slowed, falling by 10 percent the first half of 2015. The Times’ piece suggests the printed book may weather the digital storm better than music and television, stating that some big publishers have even expanded in recent years.

An article in Fortune suggests there is more to the e-book vs. print story, posing the question of whether or not the dropped sales of e-books was a “natural outcome” of publishers increasing prices to cost the same as, or in some cases more, than printed books. Not to mention that many authors are choosing to self-publish these days, and most of them go digital since they can bypass the traditional middleman.

Statistics show a decline in e-readers. According to StatisticBrain, a site that compiles and shares various statistics, e-readers peaked in 2012 with 40,000,000 units sold. In 2013, sales had dropped to 33,900,000. Jump ahead to 2015 and only 20,200,000 e-readers were sold. But does this mean that people have already adapted to e-books and already own a device, or does it mean sales truly slumped and people are turning back to print?

Future of the printed book

As e-commerce boomed over the past several years, it demonstrated how many consumers today prefer expediency and rapid delivery. Over time, downloadable products have become very popular. As a result, the book industry has to keep this demand in mind. Yet fast shipping is now an option, which for now can keep things competitive for printed books.

While the printed book is not ready to become totally obsolete just yet, over time will it become a side product of a lucrative digital industry? Traditional books are likely to continue for the time being since many people still prefer to curl up with a good book, but in the electronic age, digital versions are not doing to disappear. In fact, some, such as Wired, say consumers can continue to enjoy the best of both worlds.

At least for now.

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