Is dead the new black?
Everyone tells me the book is dead. I’d love to declare the death of premature declarations of death. But, sadly, I cannot.
In this line of work, it is sometimes difficult to avoid grand sweeping pronouncements. I understand that. When someone asks you a question on book futures and the truth takes twenty minutes just to get a sense of the industry’s complexity, it’s tempting to dismiss them with the equivalent of “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”, just so you can get to lunch on time.
“Look, the book’s dead, alright? Where are those sandwiches?”
Though expedient, such statements are, of course, completely ridiculous (except the bit about the sandwiches). After all, the book has been in its death throes since the nineteenth century. The latest high profile talker to succumb to the ridiculous is Australian Commonwealth Minister for Small Business, Senator Nick Sherry.
"I think in five years, other than a few specialty bookshops in capital cities, you will not see a book store. They will cease to exist."
Call me cynical (please do), but I thought politicians weren’t supposed to say what they think. Independent booksellers account for up to 20% of the Australian trade, a much higher percentage than most other English language markets, and so represent a significant achievement for small business in this country. I guess we should just consider ourselves lucky Mr Sherry is not Minister for Health.
Such statements show all the hallmarks of a lazy generalisation. For one thing, he seems unfamiliar with recent figures that show book sales are holding up, despite offshore online competition. Whether this remains the case in five years’ time is up to our local industry and how we respond to the clear challenges ahead.
Any thought that some reasonable discussion might ensue was quickly dashed. Of course, 2011’s piñata had to get a whacking as the Minister cited eBooks as another reason for the bookshop’s seemingly inevitable demise. Even Don Grover, CEO of nationwide bookseller Dymocks, weighed in at this point with a spirited defence of the printed book (and hence the bookshop); one he no doubt prepared earlier:
“People love curling up on a lounge with a book, the physical nature of the product. The smell of a book still rates as one of the most significant reasons why people buy books.”
Oh dear. He hasn’t read our blog then. Still, if that research exists, I’d love to see it. But back to Mr Sherry:
“We know that nine out of ten businesses in this country are connecting to the internet but unfortunately only about a third or 35% in any way use web-based or internet distribution for selling and contacting new customers.”
Here, the senator is more on the money, though there’s still the tendency to impose conflict on such statements: that