Today I saw a tweet that pretty much summed up the sort of 'digital publishing speak' that most annoys me. I put that in inverted commas, because I don't actually believe that many people who work in publishing actually believe it for one minute. In fact, this sort of talk, the stuff that brings in the headlines, is the stuff peddled by people who think they understand the publishing industry – or at least love the opportunity for them to cry from the rooftops that books are dead. It's a big headline. One of the final frontiers of traditional media to go digital. To be 'massacred'. The last one that the big executives have lost control over. The commentators. They love this talk, but I just wish they'd shut up.

So, back to that tweet. Well – I fundamentally agree with it. It points out exactly what is wrong with the way these commentators operate. It was a quote from Stephen Fry:
I realise my source may seem less than credible. But in the spirit of the internet I thought I had better stick to my original source and credit them. And for those that want it verified, here it is from the horses mouth back in 2009. Yes, 2009, over four years ago. And I believe the point still stands.
Stephen Fry could see this situation back in 2009. The Kindle wasn't launched in the UK until 2010. Over a year later. Yet, commentators will still insist that print is dying, that it is no longer 'economical' to print books. I would have to disagree, however.

The thing with eReaders – be they tablets or e-ink – is that there will always be a barrier to entry. Price. That price has become dramatically reduced, with the Nook and Kobo Mini recently available for as little as £29. But even that is a barrier – and is most likely a price point that the manufacturers simply can't sustain. So with price comes a natural point at which people will no longer purchase an eReader, and I would argue that would leave behind a fair chunk of the population.

So what is actually dead? I would say big print. And by big print, I really mean the big publishers. Why? Because they have overheads. Huge overheads. Offices. Warehouses. Staff. And those staff have targets. And executives. Who are tasked with forever growing everything. Growth cannot be sustained forever.

Little print however, is much more manageable. By little print, I mean independent publishers. It makes sense for them to publish something on a smaller scale. Their overheads are smaller. They might only amount to a room in their house. If they really want, they can post books out themselves, direct to customers. They can do it well. They can offer better service to their customers. They can get to know their customers. They can produce enough stuff to make a living from – probably a fairly good living if they put in the effort.

All in all, little print is possible. It can make financial sense. And it will for many small publishers, and probably many big publishers too. There will always be that chunk of the market that doesn't want to pay for an eReader. There will always be that chunk of the market that can't afford to. And there will always be that chunk of the market that likes books for being books. A physical object. One that can be passed on. One that can be gifted. One that can be displayed. One that can be cherished. One that can be written on. One that can't run out of battery.

So print is not dead. Nor is the Kindle or any other eReader killing it. It is not a threat, just a changing marketplace. Each can live alongside each other – some titles will perform better in print, others in digital form. Some people may even like to buy both. At the end of the day, it is all about a passion for books and stories. How you experience that is just one piece of the puzzle.

Rather than books and print being dead – the headlines might as well say 'progress is happening' or 'managers must get off their arses and adapt to a changing environment'. Sadly, neither will grab your attention. There just isn't much of a headline in things changing slowly, and some people not getting as many fancy lunches. That's news for you.
 
Ok - I'm a little late off the blocks with this one, and this story broke over a week ago. Amazon has launched what it calls AutoRip - which allows anyone who has bought CDs or Vinyl from Amazon since 1999, the opportunity to download nearly all of them from Amazon's Cloud Player (I assume there must be some rights exceptions).

There have been many opinion pieces written about this - mostly focusing on the reappearance of music tastes some of us would rather forget. There has also been a little commentary on what this could mean for publishing however - and that is where most of this will focus.

In music, you must remember that there is a more open ecosystem than books. Pretty much anywhere you download an MP3 from, you can move that around your computer, and are more likely to put it on any number of different devices. Amazon is clearly using this as a way to advance their market share in Music where there are a lot of competitors, but primarily iTunes. Amazon has access to vast amounts of consumer data from over the years - and they have very wisely decided to capitalise on it. Whether this has come about as a result of a condition which has been buried in Amazon's deals with labels for years, or is a new arrangement - it says a lot about how far the music business has come. From Amazon's perspective, I'm surprised it has taken them this long to be honest - but that may be indicative of the rights negotiations involve.

The publishing industry is at a very different stage at the moment, however. DRM and propriety formats, namely Kindle, still exist, and Amazon has a huge market share. You must also remember that since it launched, Amazon has also had a bigger market share in bookselling. Bookselling is where the business started, and I would bet that Amazon have probably sold a lot more books than they have music, as iTunes and high street stores dominated until the last few years. Therefore the implications of this, or a similar scheme, coming to Kindle could be huge.

In terms of market share, Amazon would become even stronger. Your personal library for roughly the last 15 years - even in cases where you may have resold the book - now available again to you. As far as ecosystems, and a proposition to the customer (particularly past heavy users), it is impossible to beat. Nobody else holds this much data on the publishing industry. Waterstones, the biggest retailer in the UK, has had several failed attempts at online bookselling, I doubt they hold useful data going back very far. In fact, for those of you that remember, Amazon used to have an online partnership with Waterstones between 2001 and 2006, so it's likely that Amazon own their early data too...

Now, I'm all for choice of whether to read my books on an eReader or in print, it is after all a major cornerstone of our business model. But the use of all of this historical data could only serve to increase the hold Amazon has over the publishing industry. A hold they are building upon with a closed ecosystem. One that means if you want to change to another device, you have to lose EVERYTHING you have bought before. Buying an eBook from Amazon is essentially renting it from them, and I don't know about you - but I like to own the things I pay money for! It is no secret that Amazon has been squeezing publishing margins very tightly - and for an industry that is already very hit or miss, and operating on tight margins - this is very dangerous territory indeed.

It is also worth noting that Amazon could expand this further. DVDs and Video could be another potentially huge opportunity for them with films and TV shows. The three combined would make a very powerful proposition - one that already includes Amazon Prime and its tie-ins to LoveFilm and free Kindle downloads. Two out of three could give them the power to force the third - could the publishing or movie industry afford to refuse these negotiations, and potentially be barred from sale? Android couldn't touch them and Apple would probably struggle too, neither of them have anywhere near that amount of sales data or clout. This could be how Amazon becomes the winner of the content game.

Would you use a publishing equivalent of Amazon's Autorip? Would it be a deal breaker over any other platform for you? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.