When it Comes to Books, Don’t Fear the Reaper
For decades now, we’ve been hearing talk of the death of print. Cliché phrases such as, “No one reads,” “Books are on the way out,” and “Paper printing is a dead technology,” are heard again and again by those modeling the latest, most fashionable gadgets and the so-called experts. Hype comes in many forms.
The computer is more than half a century old now; the personal computer has been ubiquitous for two decades – the laptop for 10 years; PDAs and palm-enabled phones are quickly usurping the laptop. With each newer, smaller machine the volume swells on the old chant: “Books are doomed! The end is near!”
Are book printers worried? Well, yes. But should they be? No. A look at the numbers behind the book business reveals a healthy industry. Though many people cite a decline in new titles of 18,000 in 2005 relative to 2004, this drop in and of itself does not give enough information for a clear picture. True, fewer titles were published in 2005, but, in 2004, more titles were published in the United States than in any other year in history. According to Bowker statistics, 195,000 titles were published domestically and 375,000 English titles were published internationally. The drop-off certainly does not denote the industry’s demise.
“I think there’s a lot of fear,” but “basically since the 1960s, people have been predicting the demise of print. ... there’s always talk about it,” said Noelle Skodzinski, editor-in-chief of Book Business magazine, a sister publication of BFL&S.
The high cost and limited availability of technology such as e-books aren’t the only issues preventing print from falling off the cliff. Many industry leaders feel tangible, print-on-paper media will never disappear. Skodzinski is among them. “I think there will always be a place for digital and traditional printing,” Skodzinski said. She defended traditional offset methods as well: “There are always going to be mass market books that need to be produced in enormous quantities. There are efficiencies gained by traditional book manufacturing that I don’t think you can achieve with digital [printing],” she said.