Too black and white

I was on CNN on Friday to be a talking head about the Kindle and e-books overtaking hardbacks on Amazon (if anyone wants to see it, my mom back in the US has taped it off the Tivo).

It is a great thing whenever the broadcast media's culture shows take a moment from obsessing about Cheryl Cole's malaria or Lindsay Lohan's jail time to talk about books. But I was a trifle concerned that the man interviewing me from CNN central in Atlanta kept trying to to get me to say in one way or another that the digital book was the end of publishing. I don't blame the presenter; he's just a nice hair cut, gleaming teeth and an expensive suit, probably just booming out the line his producer was whispering in his earpiece. The worrying thing that this is a refrain repeated over and over again in the mainstream media - that it is an either/or situation; the rise of the digital means the death knell for the printed book.  

This is, of course, rubbish, and has much more to do with the way journalism works than the realities of the book trade. A story has to be about conflict. But a lot of digerati and e-book champions on the blogosphere are guilty of the same kind of overhype. On the day that Amazon announced it was selling 143 e-books to 100 hardcovers, Jacqui Cheung on the techie blog Ars Technica gushed: 'What else is clear is the fact that users apparently aren't as attached to dead tree books as some e-book critics thought. Paperbacks are surely still selling at sky-high rates, but the appeal of having a "stack" of books crammed into one, slim device is certainly winning over customers.'

Yeah, sure thing, Jacqui. This sort of triumphalism of digital over print grates as much as the CNN hype. The future of the book is not about one or the other, is not about a format war. It is more about a settlement, managing a shift to digital whilst still selling print books in as much volume as possible. Lost in much of the Amazon sells more e-books story was that hardback sales were actually up, too. That 8% of the market in the US for e-books is a grand result, the 2-3% in the UK encouraging from where we were 12 months ago, but that still leaves a wee bit of the market that is still physical titles, don't you think?

Part of managing this shift is that we shouldn't give up the day job yet. We should get away from this silly push and pull, black and white, digital versus print mode of thinking and become completely format agnostic.   


Fear of format

Garbhan Downey's picture

I’d a similar experience in an interview recently with BBC radio in Ireland, when I was pitted ‘against’ a traditional bookseller as some sort of hi-tech bad guy. I tried to stress how much I valued and loved bookshops. And I reminded the presenter that technology was about making our lives simpler and more comfortable – and that the production team servicing him needed a bank of computers to put out their programme. But I still came out with a bad taste in my mouth, like a schoolboy who’d just been forced into a fight. I agree entirely that we should be allowed to remain ‘format agnostic’. When I’m listening to Van Morrison, I don’t care if it’s on vinyl, CD or MP3. Not tape though - a man still has his standards to keep...

CNN Interview

Tim, where can I see a video of your CNN interview?

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