For a 1 year old, is a magazine simply an iPad that doesn’t work? Are we seeing a new generation for whom printed content is essentially broken? I just recently saw the above video on Youtube and it got me thinking about what the future will be for how we will read and consume content. Like I touched on in my Technology vs Advertising post, what we consider technology is predicated by the age in which we experience it. What is considered technology by us now will just be stuff to children who grow up exposed to it. With the release of the iPad, Apple essentially brought to the mainstream a new way to experience content and we are already seeing a change in behaviour as many newspapers struggle with a downturn in readership as people go online for their content on a daily basis. Also printed content is obviously alot more expensive and time consuming to create and produce so we are seeing not just a change in how we consume content but a change for how the industry creates and distributes it as well.
Tablet devices are already impacting upon how people consume content, with more and more people reading books and getting their information from them. I for one enjoy reading the Financial Times on their web app. Reading books and consuming content in this way opens up new opportunities for how we engage with it. About a year ago now, IDEO put together the below concept video illustrating three different concepts for how technology may change the experience of reading for people.
Nelson: Contextualizes books within popular opinion and debate to provide reference and easy cross-checking of information
Coupland: Contextualizes books within your professional social network to make it easier to identify what’s worth reading
Alice: Adds a game layer to the experience of reading, in a sort of choose your own adventure meets geo-targeting scernario.
The key technology linking all the concepts together is that through the internet feeding tablets and mobile we are able to be constantly connected wherever we are which enhances how we find and consume content. New layers of utility can be added to the reading experience that couldn’t be before. As tablets become cheaper and a device for the masses, I believe this will be an area of significant growth. I do however feel there will be a place for printed books for a long time to come. I can see them becoming almost a luxury item such as many of the thriving printed magazines are these days. Since it will be alot more expensive to print a book, it will be left in the domain of the quality publications.
On the other side of the coin though there are wider reaching implications for the industry itself of digitalisation. Firstly, if you remove the printed nature of books, the definition of what one is becomes blurred somewhere between a tweet, an article and a 500 page novel. In the digital environment there aren’t the same parameters as there are in the printed world. Not only that but since the cost is lower and the whole process of producing content is faster, it puts pressure on the current distribution model. The traditional delay of up to a year between a books completion and publication was due to the work required to print, distribute and market but also allowed a means of stock control for retailers with the constraints of shelf space in their store. They needed to sell through one lot of books before they could take on more. Now books can be sold and distributed via the internet, it means book stores need to look at their business models and rearrange them.
What does this mean for the future of book stores? Much like I discussed in the Continuous Channel – Future of Retail post, people will always have a reason to go to stores but retailers will need to design them and consider the service offering as a whole with the online one. Not only does the online offering support the stores but allows the long tail of the back catalogue of books that aren’t held instore to be taken advantage of. I think we will end up with a situation where book stores will still have a place, but just a more specialised and service driven one. We are still seeing stores like WH Smith looking to triple their stores in air ports for example, capitalising on the sales of books in the moment when people need them. Whilst they will be supplying their e-book reader Kobo from this location, they will have a selection of paper backs too. They still currently see the e-reader as incremental to their paper back sales, as two thirds of their sales come from children’s books and non-fiction whereas 90% of all downloaded e-books are fiction (WH Smith plans to triple airport stores – FT.com).
Digitalisation of the book industry impacts not only how we as consumers experience the content but how the industry delivers it. Through the internet and new devices we are constantly connected with easy access to books and content, with new layers of utility added to them. For the industry it means a radical change in the distribution models and looking at their service offering, including an online product as part of it. All that said, there is still something about holding a good quality printed product on high quality stock in your hands.