Will Print Be Extinct ? Again?
It's been more than a decade since the first mass of commercial Web sites were launched and far longer since people began predicting the extinction of print. In March 1999, Princeton University history professor Robert Darnton wrote an article in the New York Review of Books that read:
Marshall McLuhan's future has not happened. The Web, yes; global immersion in television, certainly; media and messages everywhere, of course. But the electronic age did not drive the printed word into extinction, as McLuhan prophesied in 1962.
McLuhan, an English professor, media analyst and book author, predicted the demise of the printed word 43 years ago. And, as Darnton continued, "We have heard that prophecy repeated ever since the first e-book, a clunking monstrosity known as Memex, was designed in 1945. By now, the conventional book has been pronounced dead so often that we shouldn't be surprised to find that it seems in excellent health."
Over time, more and more jumped on the 'print will be extinct' bandwagon. But as Charlene Gaynor, executive director of the Association of Educational Publishers points out in "The State of the Industry" on p. 30 of the March/April issue, "progress has been very slow. For at least 20 years, people have been talking about how technology is going to take over …"
It's fast approaching a decade since online e-books began to catch the attention of segments of the reading public, and while e-book sales are reported as seeing double-digit annual growth, they still represent a small percentage of the book market.
This is one of the reasons some remain steadfast in their beliefs that printed books will not suffer from an impending e-book era. But others who used to believe that are starting to wonder. As Darnton wrote: "Why then do we continue to hear prophecies about the death of the book? Not because McLuhan was right but because movable type can't move fast enough to keep up with events."
And it seems the sauntering pace of technology has launched into an instant-access gallop, threatening to leave movable type even farther behind. E-books alone may not be eating away at confidence in print. The bigger issue for many is competition for a shrinking audience. In July 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts' report Reading at Risk announced findings of a significant decline in the number of readers in the U.S.
As Jeff Abraham of the Book Industry Study Group explains in "The State of the Industry" feature, "We see the continuation of a flat, if not declining trend in unit sales, and a modest increase in revenue from the sale of books. This continues an existing trend of several years and has many publishers concerned about a pie that is not growing."
Despite these challenges, there is a bright side, too. Manufacturers are investing, a sign they may smell the scent of increased demand in the wind. As do many others, according to last month's report on BookTech Magazine's "2005 Industry Outlook Survey": Two-thirds of the industry have a positive business outlook for this year. Some reasons for this outlook are discussed in "The State of the Industry" feature, where industry leaders point out not only a few major opportunities in book publishing, but also the characteristics they see as essential to the successful book publisher of the future … and the successful future of the printed book.