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Yesterday at the Bath Digital Festival, a new event was launched. D:BATE held their first ever showdown between experts, on the subject “Digital Is Killing The Print Industry”.

In the Pump Rooms, the crowd was polled on whether they agree with the statement ‘Digital is killing the print industry- the presses will stop running in ten years’. The majority, 20 people, were undecided while 19 were against and 16 were for the statement.

The debate consisted of two teams of three who were fighting to convert the audience to their side.

Arguing FOR the motion were:

Chris Book (audiobook extraordinaire)

Richard Godfrey (who deals in making print products from online content. conflicted or what?)

Julian Gough (author and all around interesting person. Also, my notes say he was wearing a nice jacket).

AGAINST the motion were:

Mike Goldsmith (Future Publishing’s digital genius, again a conflicted position)

Sam Holliday (editor in chief of the Bath Chronical)

Robert Topping (of the beautiful bookshop).

Here are the best quotes to sum up the arguments:

FOR

“The Ability of the printed word is amazing, but why are we so wedded to this format? It’s a dead tree!”  – Chris Book (Julian Gough later added that “people think books smell nice but they don’t, they smell like dead trees!”)

“Traditional publishing is probably already dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.” – Richard Godfrey, who also compared this debate to one that may have been had before:

“Paper is killing the stone industry. Paper is easier, cheaper to make, more adaptable and easier to correct!” / “No no no, you’ll lose all the craftsmanship! I love the feel of heavy stones in my hand while I read…”

Julian Gough listing the things books have got wrong, “books don’t even stay open! We’ve had 500 years to sort that out, and they still don’t even stay open unless you keep your hand on them.”

“I do love books, but I don’t love the format I love the content… We want to hold onto the old thing because in the past change has always meant famine or war. Now it’s pennicillin or the iPad.” – Julian Gough

AGAINST

“The Sun on Sunday proves there is still a huge market for print journalism. If the industry was dead, why would News Int. have launched this new product, which has been a huge success.” – Sam Holliday, who also stated that “print will have to change and innovate… It may need to get smaller but it will survive.”

“Books have always been for niches… You have to sell the right book to the right person.” – Robert Topping, who also pointed out that “everything that was going to wipe out the book before (radio, TV…) has not managed…books won’t break or run out of battery.” He finished with the excellent point that “if you only read ebooks, what will your shelves look like?”

The way in which print is different to digital is that print “gives you memories, passed down for generations. (And yes, it smells terrible and takes up space.) Digital just doesn’t care. It doesn’t want to be collectable, it doesn’t ever look back. It looks forward, to your next purchase.” – Mike Goldsmith

“People want choice and digital offers that… (so) print needs to become better.” – Mike Goldsmith

RESULT

At the end of the evening, and using a very biased paper-based polling system, the audience voted AGAINST the motion that digital will replace print in 10 years, by a landslide 41 votes to 20.

5 voters were still undecided, perhaps because the general consensus at the end of the debate was that a hybrid of print and digital forms was the future publishing. And there was no little paper card for this option.

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The question of what should people be paying for ebooks has been raging since the moment the first ereader hit the shelves. Google and Amazon have now become locked into a pricing standoff which has created a storm of deals for customers, but may enhance some of the other problems on the horizon for Apple.

Huffington Post Books reported that  Google Play and their bargain-basement launch offers have caused Amazon to have a bit of a moment. Is this the dawn of a shiny new competitor for the virtual retail giant?

Google Play, which seems to be remarkably similar to Amazon in their product base and selling method, have opened by offering some of their biggest name books, movies and music for just 25c. Amazon have, in response, lowered their prices to match, thus reducing the appeal of the new venture and keeping their coveted spot as the lowest of the low. (In regards to pricing, you understand.)

In a slightly related tangent, The Wall Street Journal has revealed that there is a lawsuit pending by the US Justice Department which accuses Apple and five major publishing houses (including HarperCollins Inc.) of colluding to fix ebook prices.

The case suggests that the ‘agency model’ was used in ebook contracts: publishers made deals which allowed them to set the ebook price for iBooks, of which Apple would take a 30% cut. The deals prevented the publishers from allowing any other retailer to sell those same ebooks at a lower price, which has caused the anti-trust case to be filed.

Apple has stated: ‘Nu-uh, no way, it’s all Amazon’s fault! They started it! We are just refusing to play with them’. Actually, they said:

“Before Apple entered the eBook market, one competitor, Amazon, the nation’s largest bookseller, had taken 90% of the market by pricing key eBooks below their wholesale cost”

Apple argue that they are simply using a pricing method which will be sustainable in the long-term for both their company and the publishing industry. A spokesperson pointed ut that if they continued to challenge Amazon the prices drops would harm them all.

There has certainly been support from the industry for their stance. Many retailers and publishers have spoken out saying that any action to stop or reduce the impact of the agency pricing method will give Amazon an advantage. Certainly, there is a consensus that if the stack ’em high/ sell ’em cheap model continues then there will be nothing left of the industry to sell.

Just what people will make of the Google Play Vs Amazon price smash in this arena remains to be seen. The fact that it has only pushed prices further down, even for this limited period, will certainly cause concern.

This afternoon the Bath LitFest featured a debate on the future of printed books. To discuss the topic, several key players in the publishing and writing industries were policed by James Runcie.

Neil Blair is a lawyer and, most importantly, J. K. Rowling’s literary agent.

Charlie Redmayne, who is formerly of Harper Collins, is now  the CEO of Pottermore.

Nicola Solomon is the General Secretary of the Society of Authors, and was the only speaker without the Rowling-Connection. (Although presumably JKR is a member of the society…)

“The power of the story will matter more than the means of production.” – James Runcie

Runcie opened the debate by stressing that authors are less concerned about what form their book comes in than how to make money in a fractured market.

Blair said that “The biggest challenge IS the digital revolution” in part due to “the problem of privacy and the perception in digital space that content should be free.”

The solution he came to was ensuring that JKR controlled all the digital rights to her content rather than selling it to her publishers. However, this is a difficult issue and that solution won’t work for everyone.

As an agent he finds that digital rights are the biggest sticking point in contract negotiations, but when he asks publishers what they plan to do with those rights they usually don’t have an answer. Blair believes this is because they have relied on a “lazy cookie-cutter approach” for too long. Publishers need to discover and develop new ways of providing and marketing an author’s work.

For JKR, launching Pottermore was the answer, but it will not work for everyone. One of the key reasons this method works for Harry Potter readers is the sense of community and the subsequent expectation of integrity between the reader and the provider.

Someone asked the panel about the feeling that writers now have to become a brand as well as an author.

Writers, like musicians, are having to rely on their own profile and contact with fans to generate an income. The panel certainly agreed this is a challenge; writers are very different people to rock stars!

There was a concern that publishers will stop supporting authors who aren’t seen as guaranteed successes. That will, in turn, create a lack of new talent in the industry- writing is becoming more and more of a full time job without full time pay.

Redmayne raised the point that the big issue at the moment is about the content. “Books are just a vehicle which carries content around.”

Personally, I think the industry’s biggest transition needs to be made by consumers. The adjustment is getting used to paying for the content, rather than the format the content is in.

Piracy is the other major concern in the digital revolution and all three speakers felt it was like “playing a game of Whack-A-Mole”.

Because it’s a well hidden and global industry, it is very expensive to fight. Blair stated that “it is up to the industry to find a creative way to fight privacy, it can’t be left up to the legislators.”

The talk concluded with Runcie asking the panel where books will be in 10 years time. Here are each of their answers:

Charlie Redmayne:

“Hardback market will be the prevalent book sector, ebook sales will make up over 50% of the market, and enhanced ebooks will be popular options.”

Nicola Soloman:

“Of course books will still be there. They’re they legacy media!”

Neil Blair:

“Books are not doomed, digital and print can compliment each other. What I’m concerned about is authors being able to earn a living and create quality books. We need to find solutions for the challenge of digital space.”

 

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: POTTERMORE MAKES DEALS WITH AMAZON AND BARNES & NOBLE

That (gratuitously sensational) headline is, of course, referring to the Amazon.com giant’s recent move into publishing with the acquisition of the Marshall Cavendish Children’s Book catalogue.

Although not their first foray into the publishing world, the catalogue, of over 450 children’s books, is Amazon’s first children’s publishing list acquisition and seems to have been driven by the upcoming Kindle Fire release. With Amazon now able to offer a colour service to eBook readers it is expected that their share in the market will increase dramatically, particularly with the kids book market.

We all know how appealing any colourful, interactive, super expensive product is to kids. You’ve probably seen this video of a toddler and her new-found magazine aversion:

A magazine is an iPad that does not work…

By acquiring the Marshall Cavendish back catalogue Amazon have not only lured yet another corner of the book market into their web (geddit?), they’ve also caught the generation of kids who grow up reading their books on a Kindle or Kindle Fire.

By becoming a publishing house Amazon are able to publish their catalogue exclusively to the Kindle through their site, and in the process they will probably secure a new generation of  Amazon users who are unable to access the books they want elsewhere.

What this means for the rest of the industry is a hot topic of debate, but we can rest assured it will have knock-on effects far and wide.

Recommended Reading:

Philip Jones on FutureBook 

Laura Hazard Owen on paidContent.org