The Book Is Dead – Long Live The Book!

The Book Is Dead – Long Live The Book!

Were you there when they tried to bury the book? Even before there was any news of its demise?

The crocodiles were there; the kindled flames of digitalis were licking round a coffin made out of old book covers. The trend checkers were there singing from their iPads about ‘birth cohorts’ and ‘generational trends’. And, right at the front were…wait for it…

…The ‘iGeneration’ aka the iGen/Gen Z/Centennials (those born 1996 and later), all clutching their iPhones and eReaders.

Behind them were;

The Millennials/Gen Y (born 1977-95)

Generation X (born 1965-76)

Baby Boomers (born 1946-64)

The vicar was the Reverend A. Mazon. The pallbearers all wore Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg facemasks.

And, right at the back..? Chief mourner Ana Logue and the Silent Generation, aka Traditionalists (born 1945 and before) all clutching dusty old hymn sheets and singing ‘Nearer my Book to thee…’

In the travel guidebook market (wherein I languish), the ‘digital revolution’ was welcomed feverishly by publishers as a way of updating perishable details instantly. On their G4/5/infinite iPhones, a new generation of (unpaid) ‘citizen travel writers’ would be able to upload information directly to publishers. They could do so the moment the entire facade of the luxury hotel in which they were large-ing it collapsed into the swimming pool; or when the ‘fantastic’ restaurant that was the old style guidebook’s top choice had just been closed down because Health & Safety found a cockroach in the carpaccio.

Excited execs from top guidebook publishers were tossing around such profound messages as:

‘…digital will enable pervasive computing by which simultaneous connections to multiple high-speed networks will provide seamless handoffs throughout a geographical area.’

And, my all time favourite from Lonely Planet;

‘Growing our digital presence is core to this (digital) transition and now we take another step forward with a product in the rapidly growing mobile-social-local space for travel…’

Mobile-social-local space for travel…?  Do they mean a blanking bus..?

Now, word comes of print media’s overall resurgence. Last year, LP’s MD, Piers Pickard acknowledged that ‘Print has its advantages’, not least that ‘the batteries don’t run out and you can drop (a book) and not break it.’ Pickard added several key advantages of print guidebooks that the dinosaurs of the guidebook writing trade have been promoting for years;

“There are things a print guidebook does brilliantly, like having a picture, a map and information all on the same page.”

You don’t say?

Meanwhile the AA’s Head of Publishing, Helen Brocklehurst, says;

“There’s a new appreciation of the value of print and that while travel info consumers like digital for search activity and fast consumption, they prefer printed books for ‘slow consumption’ and high visual values.”

Now, the trend in print guidebook sales is on a rise, by only a few percentage points at the moment, but a steady rise rather than a blip, according to industry sources.

So much for the rude health of the travel guidebook sector, but what of the general print industry?

In good nick also.

“The physical book market has turned out to be more resilient than anyone expected,” according to leading analysts while such big hitters as Markus Dohle, CE of Penguin Random House, and Thomas Rabe, CE of Bertelsmann, the conglomerate that owns a massive slice of the world book market, are  talking up ‘real’ books as sales of print increases steadily.

Even the Harry Potter Millennials have fled the graveside, along with the revived book, while there may be signs that increasing numbers of the iGeneration are turning to print ‘legacy’ as a welcome relief from too much on-screen zap and from a desire for ‘slow’ reflection.

A book in the hand is worth a dozen in digital…

Des Hannigan, 2017