For hundreds of years people have documented their existence, passing on messages, history, and ideas through print form. Now the crumbling economy is threatening to make printed news a thing of the past...

Just recently the New York Times announced that they are facing dire circumstances and "that it is possible that The Times and other newspapers will have to move to digital-only distribution."(read story)

Closer to home the Tucson Citizen has announced they will close the Tucson Citizen on March 21 if it can’t find a buyer. (read story)

Other papers are taking desperate measures and have been forced to cut staff and popular sections.

The Washington Post is ending regular publication of its weekly Book World section, eliminating one of the few stand-alone book review sections left among daily newspapers. (read story)

"Whether or not print dies, its business model will", says Jeff Jarvis, Buzzmachine.com. "Physical wares—newspapers, books, magazines, discs—will no longer be the primary or most profitable means of delivering and interacting with media: news, fact, entertainment, or education."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has now gone out on a limb and made some pretty bold predictions in a recent discussion with Washington Post editors, the biggest of which, by far, is his proclamation that he thinks there'll be "no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network." So as not to leave any doubt about that, he also went to further clarify that means there "will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form." (read story)

So what does this mean for the Book World?

We know publishers have been forced to cut cost by shortening tours, buying less manuscripts, and spending less on publicity. Which interprets to bookstores as fewer events, fewer posters, fewer books, and few sales. If bookstores all are to survive, they need customers who don't define themselves as customers simply by reading newsletters or attending programs, but by taking it a step further and buying books.

"The other day as a luncheon speaker I sat down by a man, a familiar face, who said he was a Poisoned Pen customer. And he said, I've just read a good book. In fact, I've read 100 books lately. Wonderful I said. And he said, Yes, all on my kindle.

And I said, Then you will be okay when we close the store. And he said, Why would you do that? Close the store? How will I know what to read?

Retail businesses need to sell product, not just services. We are not public institutions or free information providers. No bail out is likely to come our way. It's important to make this decision now when it counts and to stick to it.

You may love your Kindles and e-readers, but we hope you love us, too." said Barbara Peters owner of The Poisoned Pen.

Stuart Evers of the guardian.co.uk, said it best in his moving story titled "Murder One closing: did we commit this crime? The loss of one of Charing Cross Road's best bookshops is as much down to customer neglect as the economic climate. (read story)

Some are fighting for what they hold dear. More than 100 writers have banded together asking The Washington Post not to shut down its stand-alone Sunday Book World section. (read story)

Are we entering an era in which magazines and books will be reduced to flickering video displays? Will this be a brave new world or a step back into the dark ages? I for one do not want to give up the comfort of curling up with a good book. Yes, for the moment I am safely surrounded a surplus of "to read" books and I take comfort in having a choice at the ready.

I do not want to be forced to do my recreational reading in a digital format. I take no comfort from a glowing screen, reaping only headaches and weak vision...

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Comment by EDWARD C MORGAN on February 1, 2009 at 1:46am
Amen.

One of the most difficult shifts for some in the newspaper industry was to start viewing the newspaper's web site as "part of the newspaper" and not as a competing product.
Comment by John McFetridge on January 31, 2009 at 2:08pm
First of all I feel I should point out that e-readers don't have "flickering video displays," or "glowing screens," the e-ink technology is very good and really nothing like a computer screen. You can't read them in the dark, but you can read them in direct sunlight.

But never mind that, what I really want to know is, why can't bookstores stock e-books? The man who read the 100 books is right, what makes a bookstore is the staff and the recommendations thety make. Why can't I browse in a bookstore (seeing some actual books but maybe also just some covers and a couple pages of promo material, maybe the first few pages), make my selection, go to the cash and have the e-book downloaded onto my e-reader?

That would also get around IJ's problem of stores not stocking enough new books.

I've been saying for a while now that publishers, editors and booksellers have to stop thinking of themselves as just printers and trucking companies and warehouses and start concentrating on the real value-add they bring to the whole reading experience.

Even if printed books become a thing of the past, bookstores don't have to disappear. Books are completely different than three minute pop songs and the same business model just can't be used.
Comment by EDWARD C MORGAN on January 31, 2009 at 6:05am
As a newspaper publisher, this is a topic I have a tremendous amount of interest in.

Like many industries, various aspects of media, including newspapers, are struggling hard. Changing consumer preferences is one reason. A slumping economy is another.

What is unique is nobody will say "cars are a thing of the past" or "soon there will be no more banking industry," and those industries might be in more dire straits than newspapers.

Like with selling a newspaper, bad news floats to the top. A recent study conducted by the SNPA shows that weekly papers have only lost 2 percent of advertising revenue - that is a far cry different from what the big metros are suffering. On a blog today, an analyst was saying that the large papers and small papers will likely weather the storm with the middle ones being hit hard.

The industry MUST change to meet the times. Already, at my current papers, we are preparing to unroll online magazines that can be accessed through our web site - additional advertising revenue.

Make no bones about it, if the Sunday Book World section were profitable, the Post would not shut it down.

What do I think newspapers will become? I think your dailies will be daily online. They will produce a certain number of print issues per week. Related will be a certain number of print and online "niche" publications - a Monday football review you can buy during football season, a Book section, a home and garden. Highly specialized sections with smaller press runs - and therefore commanding lower ad rates. Perhaps the sections can be subscribed to a la cart.

Something will have to happen. Sites like google, yahoo and other news sites RELY on newspapers for their stories. Without newspapers they will have little or nothing to link to. They may eventually become business partners.

How does this impact book publishing? Not really sure. Like you, too many people prefer to read novels in traditional form. Yes, we are going to have to live with the electronic versions, but I think the printed version is going to be around for a long long time.

Sadly, shifting economics and consumer preferences are leading to a decline in independent bookstores. It does seem to hit much harder when a favored bookstore or publisher has to close its doors.

Again, while I have no crystal ball, there is good news out there. You just have to look hard to find it, as it is buried under "the sky is falling" that seems uniquely reserved for financial, automotive, and print publishing industries.

However, as a newspaper publisher, and one who is seriously considering launching a mystery magazine, it is a terribly exciting time and frankly, I'm glad to be a part of it.
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 31, 2009 at 5:49am
I, too, love bookstores -- or I used to until I published books. I almost failed because bookstores refused me shelf space or returned my books doubly quick to the publisher to make room for bestsellers. I learned that bookstores sell space on the "new releases" table and for more prominent display. Not having my books available in the bookstore costs me customers. Only having the latest release on the shelf for a month does nothing to gain a wider readership. Amazon at least gives me the same chance it gives Patricia Cornwell.

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