Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Could the Recession Kill the eBook?

With Borders announcing the closure of its UK brands, Books Etc and Borders Express and ever-increasing competition from supermarkets the world of publishing is looking for a saviour and some see eBooks as being the golden egg laid by the goose. It is true there is a number of new eReaders about to hit the stores but with the recession still having an effect it may be timing that is the biggest enemy.

Waterstones has increased its product display for the Sony machine in its stores and this will raise the profile of the machines and eBooks among those who are unaware of the product but it won't lead a stampede to the tills. There may be a sales blip at Christmas as the curious struggling for the latest must-have gadget or are at a loss for what to buy as a present for a loved one. Unless 2010 shows a real end to the economic downturn publishing may have to endure not only more store closures but disinterest from a public strapped for cash and struggling to cope with a technology which unless fully explained may appear pointless to a majority of potential customers.

Unless the major publishing houses and the supporting media tell the story that needs to be told to the public, eReaders could become a lost opportunity and possibly one of the last opportunities for quite some time. We have seen the erosion of independent book stores from our high streets as they fall to the competition of the chain stores. We are witnessing the erosion of the chain store as it falls to the competition of the supermarkets. If the trend continues we will soon be left with a choice of few titles available (Supermarkets are not known for their wide reaching stock buying, instead choosing to concentrate on a handful of popular titles), fewer authors making a living from writing and ultimately fewer publishers.

We are not at the last chance saloon yet and publishing is pretty much to blame for the state of the trade, so eBooks really could be a saving grace, but there is a combination of events which must occur for them not to become a redundant technology. Much of the onus lies with publishers ensuring they are talking with the people who make the readers, the people who buy the readers and by sticking to a format which is usable across a range of readers. At present this still has not been universally accepted, though ePub should get the nod thus saving another damaging battle between formats which leave the consumer afraid to buy a machine which will not be supported. We all remember what happened to Betamax or HD DVD and the negative impact it has when the public spends its hard earned cash on a system that gets dropped. In a recession people are looking at every penny and need persuasion that their hard earned money is not going to be wasted on yet another technology which won't receive the support it requires.



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