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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: An E-book vs. Print Book Update

I just read an interesting article on the future of print books and eBooks. It is called, “Is it the end of the road for eBooks?” (Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times, October 03, 2015).

For a number of years as a commercial printing broker and afficionado of ink on paper, I had been saddened by the news of the death of print. Sales of digital readers were soaring, and everywhere I looked, bookstores were closing. So I have been pleased to read in Makhni’s article that print books are going strong and e-book sales have been waning.

Makhni’s History of the Print Book

“Is it the end of the road for eBooks?” takes a brief trip through history, starting with writing on paper. (According to Makhni’s research, “Socrates warned everyone against writing because it would ‘create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls’ and make people ‘not use their memories.’”)

The article then moves on to the printing press. (According to Makhni’s article, “Writer and thinker Johannes Trithemius said it would make people lazy. Writing and copying builds character, he said, and that would be completely lost.”)

And finally, Makhni’s article comes to the eBook, noting the huge initial ramp-up in eBook sales and the demise of many large booksellers. But then things changed.

What’s Happening to eBooks Now?

“Is it the end of the road for eBooks?” casts light on the slow-down in eBook sales, noting that “new figures collected from over 1,200 publishers worldwide seem to indicate that eBook sales fell by 10 per cent in the first half of 2015.” In addition, Makhni says that “while the sales of e-reader devices hit an all-time high in 2011, that number dropped by about 25 per cent in 2014.”

Moreover, publishers are constructing or acquiring more printing and storage capabilities for print books, and new book stores are opening. What gives? Makhni notes that only the print book has survived the digital onslaught, unlike newspapers, television, music, and film.

Makhni believes that eBooks should be priced considerably less than print books based on their cost to create, store (free), and transport (also free) compared to their hard-copy cousins. This, Makhni says, points to the greed and mismanagement of the digital book phenomenon, which in many cases has set eBook prices at or above those of print books, making their adoption less enthusiastic.

In addition, Makhni challenges the assumption that younger readers who grew up in a digital world would still prefer digital books. This hasn’t been happening. “Digital natives” still seem to prefer eBooks for traveling and print books for home use. In addition, even for younger readers, reading a back-lit screen tires the eyes more than reading a printed page.

Finally, Makhni notes that the “eBook should be able to do far more than just look up words, take a few notes and mark something with a highlighter.” The capabilities exist, but they have not yet been applied to their fullest to distinguish the eBook from the print book.

What I Think About the Future of Digital Books

Having read Rajiv Makhni’s thoughts and assertions in his Hindustan Times article, “Is it the end of the road for eBooks?” I am in total agreement with him.

That said, I would go further. I think that an individual’s preference for the ease of using an e-reader or the tactile nature and simplicity of reading a print book will determine the individual purchase of one over the other. However, I think that other factors will influence the large-scale adoption of eBooks or their demise:

  1. Makhni believes “all-you-can-read digital library services, subscription models and lower prices may still tilt the scale.” I agree.
  2. I have seen on-screen magazines that include links to videos and podcasts (or even audio pronunciations of single foreign words). This multi-media approach to book content may well breathe life into a declining eBook universe. Playing to the strengths of digital is wise. There are certain things print books will never be able to do, such as involve the sense of hearing or fulfill the reader’s desire for moving images.
  3. Paperback books containing words (and no images) on cheaper paper may migrate to a digital format, but I’m seeing more and more showcase quality print books reflecting augmented color inksets (touch plates of various hues to expand the color gamut of offset lithography). Some of these are printed on textured paper to provide a unique and compelling feel in the hands of the reader. In addition, there are an increasing number of paper cover coatings that simulate various smooth or rough textures, to mimic everything from the surface of a football to the hairs on the back of a spider. These, digital readers will never replicate.
  4. The V-screen (also known by many other names) installs a miniature video screen inside a print book or marketing brochure. It captures the best of both worlds: print and digital. This may benefit both technologies.

Final Thoughts

In spite of the statistics quoted in Makhni’s article, I think that we’re only experiencing the infancy of digital readers and eBooks. Along with Makhni, I believe that the “value-added” attributes of eReaders must be expanded for the eBook to thrive.

I believe this will actually happen over time, and I think that along with the advances in digital and offset printing, this will lead to more options for consumers and better products in both the digital book arena and the traditional print book arena.

I think eBook prices will come down (they will need to for the platform to survive), and I think we will have more options rather than fewer, with each providing its own unmatched experience.

2 Responses to “Book Printing: An E-book vs. Print Book Update”

  1. Citizenship Investment Program…

    I just read an interesting article on the future of print books and eBooks. It is called, “Is it the end of the road for eBooks?”(Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan…

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. It’s very interesting to see that people still want physical books, and also to see that instead of throwing out either print or digital, people are selecting certain projects that need to have a permanent physical existence and others that can exist only in digital form.

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