Times Higher Education - Printing pressed

abernard102@gmail.com 2012-04-18

Summary:

“In the world of books, ‘the times they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan told us. And if bookshops and publishers are going through intense upheaval, this must affect the most compulsive producers and consumers of the written word - academics. In what economists might call the "value chain" of reading, there are four distinct stages, all of them changing in unnerving but interesting ways. Of course, the process starts with the author, combining two substages, research and then writing; then comes publication which, for both journal articles and books, has historically involved commercial publishers or university presses. Then for books, if not journals, there are the booksellers, the only link in the chain to communicate directly with readers. (Libraries remain an important part of the ecosystem for academic and scholarly works but sadly no longer for general books and lay readers.) Let's start at the end, with readers, since without them the whole edifice of literary culture collapses. Globally, literacy rates continue to rise and in some markets, such as India, book purchases are soaring as a burgeoning middle class flexes its literary muscles. Reliable statistics are hard to find, but book sales in China are said to be rising fast. Meanwhile, in the US and the West, book sales (including e-books) are growing slowly or are static. So, as long-term trends move in line with the economy, we can expect sluggish growth with the occasional dip in the UK. However, to the consternation of publishers - and to authors paid a percentage of the cover price or publishers' receipts - prices of physical books are falling and total revenues are declining steeply. This is due to the influence of e-books: much cheaper than physical books, readers have taken to them amazingly. Predictably, the US has leapt first and farthest, the UK coming next... The most popular e-books by far, both in the US and UK, are mass-market fiction genres... E-books now constitute between 10 and 20 per cent of all book sales - a percentage that is, as they say sonorously on the shipping forecast, ‘rising slowly’. So why are fiction e-books doing better? There is no research evidence but anecdotally there are reasons. One is that many readers do not want to keep old novels, so the physical object (often printed on poor paper) is less appealing than a cheaper and more convenient e-book. Another is that non-fiction e-books don't work as well - indices don't function, references do not connect, one cannot dip in and out easily and illustrations are dismal on the regular Amazon Kindle. Readers either want to own non-fiction books for their shelves or are content to borrow (or read electronically on screen) when prices are too high. E-book sales of academic publications demonstrate ‘long tail’ properties - many titles, but few sales of each. In December last year, e-book sales dipped, so we may be approaching an e-book and print equilibrium - although it would be an unwise reader who would bet a valuable first edition on that. One last thought about readers: every generation frets that theirs is the last to read, that the next is too distracted (by silent film, radio, television, video, CDs - remember them? - the internet, social media, Twitter). And so it goes, from one moral panic to the next. The truth is that book-reading has always been a minority activity: in a country of 60 million people, whereas 2.7 million people a day buy The Sun and 10 million watch Downton Abbey on television, a book will easily make it to the top of the best-seller lists if it sells 10,000 copies in a week, often if it sells only a quarter of that. Usually only one book a year sells a million copies - the last to do so was Jamie's 30-Minute Meals in 2010. Readers may have it better than ever before, choosing between e-books and physical books, with more - and cheaper - titles in print than at any other time. But booksellers, with one important exception, have never had it worse. And it may be terminal. In February, The Booksellers Association said that academic bookselling was facing "unprecedented challenges" and that prospects looked bleak. Borders - the UK's second-largest English-language bookshop chain - went bust in 2009, and other UK independents are closing at a rate of one a week. Barnes & Noble, the biggest book chain in the US (and proprietor of the Nook, the second most popular e-book reader), has seen its profits collapse from more than $200 million (£127 million) in 2008 to a net loss of $65 million last year, and Waterstones, with an annual turnover of about £500 million in 2010-11, changed hands for £53 million in June last year. The reasons are obvious. First, Amazon now has about 20 per cent of the market for physical books in the UK. It has creamed off sales and with them the difference between profit and loss for many bookshops. And then, just when selling frappuccinos, greetings cards and gifts offered life support, e-books arrived and removed another 10-20 per cent of sales. And the assault is not over. Free books are another threat. The Project Gutenberg edit

Link:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=419464&sectioncode=26

Updated:

08/16/2012, 06:08

From feeds:

Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) » abernard102@gmail.com

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Authors:

abernard

Date tagged:

04/18/2012, 15:30

Date published:

04/02/2012, 21:10