The Value of Books and eBooks

Although the festive cheer of Christmas is long over, I feel a necessity to revisit it once more. Christmas is a time of cheer, joy and giving and publishers as well booksellers had an extra reason for having a wider and shinier smile. The Guardian reported that, ‘big name titles helped bolster the physical sales to £75m, and the weekly takings of £75.4m was a near 20% increase as compared to the last week.’

Now, all that is very well, and it’s nice to see that print books still occupy a place in the people’s psyche, especially during the festive season. However the queries are many – if that was the case, then why are the yearly sales of print books slowly declining? Why is that Hachette UK saw 250, 000 e-book sales in the season? And why are e-readers still among the most popular gift choices? The final and most important question is, what is the reason for the difference in the perceived value between eBooks and books?

EBooks are popular for a variety of reasons, the major being accessibility, ease, and mobility. At the same time, there is a perceived and clear-cut sense of lack of value. For example, if you ask an ordinary person to select what they value the most out of music, books or videos – they are more likely to choose their music collection. More evidence? Take the fact, that during the Christmas season, print books actually sold more than the eBooks, even though it is probably easy to gift someone an eBook. People still do hold an attachment for the physical object, to some degree.

But why the lack of value for eBooks? A possible reason is the same flexibility, which made eBooks so popular, also corroded the sense of value felt for books. There is no way to display your collection of eBooks or show them off, or any physical occupation to invoke memories of actually buying and spending hard-earned cash.

Publishers and distributors are also to blame for the corrosion in the value of books. In the first place – the most significant indicator to value is the price of the object. And with eBook prices jumping up and down as if they are on a trampoline, there’s little reason to hope that consumers attach serious importance to a product that is so unstable. Secondly, the 20p price tag? That’s right – books, and even bestsellers carry a price of 20p – and it’s pence. Perhaps the publishers are trying to emulate the music industry to some degree, but even a song is more expensive with a tag of £0.99. Ultimately, a 20p price tag is more likely to do more harm than actual good, and it does no favours for the value of the eBook.

When it is all said and done, the publishers need to realise that it’s no more a business-to-business world. It’s a business-to-consumer world now. And when they are able to bridge the widening schism between the price of print books and eBooks, it will go a long way into restoring the value of eBooks and ultimately the future books.

Image courtesy of: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Fall of HMV

On a sombre note, Nipper the Dog is going to have to look for a new instrument to listen to. Somehow the image of him wearing headphones strikes me as distinctly weird (no matter how hip it may look!). The iconic HMV recently went into administration (a UK process which protects limited companies from their creditors whilst a debt restructuring plan is carried out). Naturally the response was one of grief, nostalgia and worry for the future, with some going as so far as to claim that physical media don’t have a future at all.

NipperWill this statement come true? Eventually it will be so, but I imagine in the far, far, far off future. Just not in the present future ahead of us. However, how did this collapse come about? In my view, the obvious culprits would be the presence of online retailers (Amazon), download services (iTunes), streaming platforms (Spotify and YouTube), piracy (nay, no names!) and supermarkets (Tesco). But there are also subtle factors at play.

Basically, HMV struggled to establish itself as an online player. I can understand that Apple and its iTunes store/player is a huge behemoth, however, HMV had the potential to be a just as large player. HMV focused on tech, games, DVD, music, tickets, etc. and with a line-up like that, if it had focused on offering a digital download service, it could have survived for a longer period of time and even challenged Apple and Amazon. I’m not even go into its brand value, rich history and lore. But, it chose to stick to its roots and physical media, leading to the fall.

https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTjK6EWyeffo8i8cJS_TCwl38W6nnWKD5_LiKdicouR3rkFSZK_NAFinally, it failed to make any real connection with the new audience. There was no real marketing campaign that inflamed the imagination of the young populace – which focused on technology, price, accessibility and uniqueness. Apple’s iconic iPod campaign captured this essence the best. To be succinct, HMV failed to read the pulse of the rising generation and reinvent its business model into a sustainable one.

As a whole, the music industry is set to become the first real member of the media family to be fully online and digitised. Neil Saunders, the managing director of Conlumino, gives further credence to this, when he writes ‘by our own figures, we forecast that by the end of 2015 some 90.4% of music and film sales will be online. The bottom line is that there is no real future for physical retail in the music sector.’ Does this ring alarm bells for the book-publishing world? In a way, they are already feeling the heat. But at the same time, there is hope.

Publishers have already recognised the changing tide – they were some of the most enthusiastic proponents of the e-book in the 2000s (an experiment which badly burnt them). They are aware of the fact that this is an interesting time to be in, where they have to reinvent themselves. And the process is a slow and steady one, albeit painful at times. In this context, the pressing question is – Which company do people associate books when they think of books?

Image credits: Nipper, iPod Campaign

The Reading Experience

Let’s get this right out of the way – I’m a bookworm. To the core. I absolutely love books (yes, clichéd indeed, but it’s the truth). Back in my pad, I had at least four overflowing bookcases in paperback and hardback formats. However, today in London, as I sit on the couch typing these lines, just my term books lie around. And I’m sure that they don’t exactly count. But out of the corner of my eye, I spy my iPad. And I’m reminded of my conscious decision of not bringing any books over with me to London.

Why so? There is something unique and distinctly beautiful about holding a book – you are actually holding one of the oldest inventions of mankind in your hand. The eye catching cover design which gives you an idea about what the book holds, the feel of the pages on which you scribble, annotate, fold among your fingers and the sturdy and comforting spine which supports the pages – all of these define a book. Also, let’s not forget the smell of a book – it’s a little quirky, but that’s what art is. A book is essentially a work of art with the author’s words, the designer’s illustrations and the publisher’s layout.

Books:iPadA multifaceted product, the Kindle/iPad fits with the mind-set of today’s generation, who seek to multitask and do more with less effort. In a jack of all trades sense, if you will. Reading a book on it is somewhat of a less visceral pleasure, yet the words aren’t lost. They still move, impact and entertain you. Plus, software like iBooks seek to manifest the reading experience to a certain degree, by providing a flipping animation to replicate the feel of turning pages over. It’s not the same thing, but it’s close. But the last thing is the ease of storage. I’m basically free to carry around whatever I want, without any noticeable inconvenience.

While I still do miss the physical book, the switch over to a digital format has been easier than I thought. If the appearance/font settings are tinkered around with, it’s ridiculously easy to replicate a print book. Think of it as a hardback to some degree, if you will. As I’m a person who focuses on the word and the realities spun by the author, the physical structure matters little to me. And I think it is a mentality shared by today’s generation which is more focused on ease, mobility and accessibility than ever.

Image courtesy of: adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net