Are Books Doomed to Extinction?

These days, the question isn’t so much whether to publish or not, as whether to publish electronically.  With the amazing statistics rolling out of Amazon regarding their popular Kindle ebooks (Kindle e-book sales have overtaken Amazon print sales, says book seller), more and more authors are turning to electronic publishing as a solution to so many author problems (cost of self-publishing print books, for one).  This press release caught my attention as it came across my desk this morning, revealing a response to the question many in the publishing industry are asking themselves.

Are Books Doomed to Extinction?
Publishers Must Innovate to Save the Book as We Know It,
Says Best-Selling Author

Photo credit: By indie.ca under Creative Commons Licence – link to page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/ 4259120807/

Michael Levin says he can see the writing on the iPad.

“Unless something changes, books as we know them are doomed, and not simply because people prefer to read on their iPads or Kindles.” says Levin, (www.BusinessGhost.com), a New York Times best-selling author, as well as editor, publisher, co-writer and ghostwriter.

“You’ll see the major publishing houses starting to go away in three to five years,” Levin says. “Their business model is in free fall. Already, we’re seeing books becoming shorter, cheaper, and diminishing in quality. You’ll soon see fewer really good authors bothering to write books, because books are no longer a meaningful source of revenue.”

Levin points to several developments he says foreshadow a sad ending for books:

  • Attention spans are diminishing. Three-fourths of teachers said their students’ attention spans are shorter than ever, according to a poll released in June. By 11 years old, nearly half of the kids had stopped reading for pleasure. The poll, by publisher Pearson UK, is just the most recent survey/study documenting shrinking attention spans and a corresponding drift from books. “Part of the problem is children don’t see their parents reading,” Levin says. “Obviously, the kids’ aren’t the only ones with diminishing attention spans.”
  • Major publishers are producing lower-quality books. The big publishing houses today are more interested in a quality marketing plan than in the quality of the book, so we’re being deluged by low-quality books. One reason is that many large publishers have stopped taking on the expense of marketing books, but they know it’s necessary for sales. So they take on authors with a marketing plan and budget. They’re also less interested in “star” authors, who demand higher royalties. They also lost authors when they eliminated advances in response to the 2008 recession.
  • Books are moving to devices, where content is free and time is thin-sliced. Online, you don’t expect to pay for content. People will expect books available online to be either free or very inexpensive, and if those books turn out to be one chapter of ideas and eleven chapters of Hamburger Helper, they will be less willing to pay for them. Also, people don’t spend much time going into depth online; books are supremely inappropriate for the surface-skimming nature of the Internet. Once people have bought a bunch of ebooks they’ve never started, they’ll stop buying them altogether.
  • Authors have a more difficult time earning a livable wage.Fewer authors can earn enough to make writing a full-time job. The audience is shrinking and fewer people are willing to pay $15 for a paper book when cheap alternatives are available. “We’ve already seen more books written to promote a product, service or company, or to brand the writer so he or she can pursue a more lucrative field,” Levin says. “Most books of the future will be marketing tools, since that’s the only way they’ll be profitable.”

    Photo credit: By Gadjo Cardenas Savilla under Creative Commons Licence – Page link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gadjo/4121943097/

Levin does find reason for hope, but it will require publishers to change how they do business.

“They need to stop trying to go after the mass market, which doesn’t exist anymore, settle on a niche and develop a brand. Publishers that stand for something in the reader’s mind – like Harlequin stands for romance – are built for the long haul,” he says.

Instead of publishing 500 low-quality books every year, major publishers should bring out only 50 top-quality winners and actually market them, he says. And publish how-to and other guidance and instructional books in concentrated form: short, powerful and to the point,

The rest of us have a job to do, too, Levin adds.

“People need to read, and they need to read to their kids or buy them books. If people stop demanding good books, there eventually will be none available,” he says. “The winners, going forward, will be that minority who still read and think for themselves. It’s a lot easier for government, the military, and the corporate world to control the way people think if they aren’t reading for themselves.  That ought to be reason enough to save the book.”

About Michael Levin

Michael Levin, founder and CEO of BusinessGhost, Inc., has written more than 100 books, including eight national best-sellers; five that have been optioned for film or TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, and others; and one that became “Model Behavior,” an ABC Sunday night Disney movie of the week. He has co-written with Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, football broadcasting legend Pat Summerall, NBA star Doug Christie and Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, among others. As a publishing consultant, Michael’s best-selling clients include ZigZiglar, Michael Gerber and Jay Abraham. He was the editor for Ziglar’s most recent book, “Born To Win.”

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5 responses to “Are Books Doomed to Extinction?

  1. I have a kindle but I also have what I call my special books. These are special editions of books with good quality paper, great printing and beautifully bound. Books like this was really precious instead of the badly printed bad quality books most of the publishing houses represent.
    Books should be considered special and should be thought about.

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    • I agree, Helen. The books you are talking about are treasures. I also believe that within the next 20 years or so, these books will become financially valuable treasures because they will be so rare.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

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  2. Today’s technology is wonderful in all it’s diverse ways and being able to read e-books on a screen is very convenient and cheaper than going out and buying a real book, but nothing beats holding a well-bound book in your hands with quality paper and flicking through the pages. It’s very satisfying to sit down with a physical book rather than an e-book, so although they may become a rarity, I think we will always have books. Who knows – some of the books we own may become real treasures one day because of their rarity!

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    • I have been reading books for so many years that they are a part of me. I love the feel and smell and general ambience of a library and all the treasures it contains. I love holding a book in my hands and curling up with it. That will never change.

      However, I do appreciate the convenience of an e-book reader. I can read it without glasses because I can enlarge the print. It is backlit so that I don’t need to have the room blazing with light in order to see the print. The fact that that one reader can hold 3000 books tells me that my house is safe from more bookshelves and bookcases now. And an e-book costs anywhere from $0.00 upwards. A few minutes shopping online won’t empty my wallet nor my bank account.

      I agree, Barb. I will never give up print books and they will always be my treasures, but I have been wooed by the new technology as many are now flocking to do.

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  3. Wonderful to see these points elucidated Sandra. I hope that books are not doomed to extinction, but I’m afraid that perhaps they are, at least among the next generation with their short attention spans that have them locked into their smart phones. I still enjoy reading books and don’t plan to stop. I have actually read more since I got an ereader, as now I’ve always got a book in my purse. I would love to see publishers limit their quantity of published books to a few good ones a year, and make people want to write with goood quality again.

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