Prediction: Hard Bound Books will be Finished by 2016

The big debate this weekend in my home had nothing to do with movies or directors even though it’s Oscar season. Instead, we speculated about the future of the book.Specifically, i bet my dinner companions an unreasonable amount on the following proposition: within five years, publishers would be unable to afford to print hard bound editions of most new books. And so, they would choose not to publish them at all in the traditional form. Hundreds of years of print history will come to an end.

My dinner companions objected strenuously, deriding my proposition as unfounded, but I stand by it. Here’s why:

First of all, it’s no secret that the print business is in terrible shape overall. increasing costs, margin pressure, and a lousy economy have all conspired to weaken the print publishers.

Second, nowadays, readers have abundant options to substitute for books: free magazines and newspapers, web sites, mobile applications. We are awash in print media. And we’re constantly bathed in electronic media presented on innumerable glowing screens that surround us in homes, offices, airports, airplanes, cars, taxis, buses, elevators, stadiums, subways, shopping malls, and so on. We have too many other options.

Third, the base of consumers who actually purchase books must be shrinking. I don’t have the data to back this assertion up, but it seems evident that fewer people purchase hardback books now that they have so many other media options.

Fourth, and most important, the publishing model is changing fast. The introduction of the Kindle, the iPad and dozens of other newfangled e-book readers will transform the market for book publishing in a very short time. If just one third of readers switch from purchasing hard bound books to purchasing digital editions, it could undermine the publishing model entirely because the costs of setting, printing, binding and shipping hard bound editions will still be necessary, but they will be amortized across far fewer books. The business model won’t hold up. Publishers will cease to create hardbound books, except in special editions (akin to DVD box sets and commemorative edition CD collections).

As a book lover, this is a dismal scenario. But I believe it is inevitable, and coming much sooner than we expect.

Think back to 2002. If someone told you then that 2/3s of music shops would be closed within five years, you would have laughed with derision. If someone predicted that 80% of a label’s income would be from non-CD digital downloads by the end of the decade, you would have howled. But now, it has come to pass. And the music industry has been transformed forever.

We’re about to go through that cycle again, but this time it will be the book publishers going through the meatgrinder. Who knows what will emerge on the other side?

Check out this piece in the New York Times that breaks out the financials for book publishing and contrasts them with eBook pubishing.

Posted via email from Think Twice