I have decided that the future of the printed book is grim indeed. In other words, the Gutenberg press model has had its day. In today’s short post, I want to canvass a number of reasons why I believe this is an accurate forecast.
The first is that to print a book at a reasonable price per copy you need to print at least a few thousand. This means we are locked into the same problem that libraries had in the middle ages: the copies have to be stored somewhere and they have to be kept away from moisture, fire, and rodents. Mice love to eat paper!
And the same economy of scale perspective has meant that the publisher makes by far the larger amount of money from a book that an author writes. When Simon & Schuster were my publisher, I was on a very handsome royalty of 12.5%. In fact, if I recall correctly, the royalty on my last book was a princely 15% which is pretty much unheard of for most authors in the self-help genre. Publishers have always argued that they should take the lion’s share of the money because they take all the risk, and they put the money up upfront for the printing run. And on face value, this is reasonable because the vast majority of books that are printed never make it to the best seller list and most end up being remaindered six to twelve months after their first release.
And the print > publisher model requires a distribution chain which up until these days has meant bookstores. Now, like most of you, I buy most of my books from Amazon apart from airport books. And in the last six months I have been trying more Kindle titles so that I can have my books with me where ever I am. I read mine on the trusty MacBook Air. As an aside, I much prefer reading on the Air than on an iPad because I don’t have to hold the Air up: the screen will stay wherever I want. And the latest MacBook air screens are fabulous and have an anti-glare coating on them that really works, even in the horror environment of an airport.
Apart from the problems inherent in the publishing model, the Internet has had a phenomenal impact on book sales and, perhaps more importantly, on modern audience’s expectation of what a book will cost. And parallel to this is the rise of YouTube and similar services where a huge amount of information is available free. Of course, just because it’s free does not mean that it’s good! But there is something more significant in play here between both of these aspects I believe. And that is the way people are actually digesting the information that they are using. It has become clear to both Olivia and myself (dealing with many people on a daily basis via email) that people are really losing the capacity to read and understand things from the written word. And what has stepped in to take the word’s place is video.
From an educator’s perspective, and with the subject matter being exercise, movement, and similar, it is clear that well-crafted video provides a huge amount more information than any amount of text and photographs. And I recall the editor of my last book complaining about how many photographs there were and how big that would make the book, and my response was that there were nowhere near enough photographs to do the job properly. If one considers video at 24 frames a second, and high-definition, that is many hundreds of thousands of photographs and one can stop and review at any point. As well, and critically, movement can only be rendered in video.
Now there are some aspects of explanation which simply do work better via the written word because of the logical structure that English imposes on any set of ideas. So from my point of view any product that I make from now on will have to still have words and photographs but also will have embedded video.
My next product will be a multi-media production called Stretching Mindfully, available in a downloadable format (with embedded video) and a “print-on-demand”, or POD”) version: words, images and no video. And we will print economical numbers for ourselves, for Sharon to sell from the website, as a book, in the same way we do now. So, potential buyers will have three choices: the downloadable version, the downloadable file for the POD version, and the already-printed book, able to be bought from the website. Hopefully something for everybody. Our printed version will be a better quality and less expensive than an individual’s POD version because we will print in larger numbers, but the POD version will get over the incredible barrier of postage: my books are about 2.2 lbs or 1Kg—and posting either book to the US, Europe, or Canada is very very expensive.
And unlike the earlier book Stretching & Flexibility, Stretching Mindfully will be organised by function, and not by class. Partly this again is in recognition of how audience’s expectations have changed. In current times people want direct and relatively simple answers to complex questions (no matter how unrealistic this want is). So, in the product Stretching Mindfully, all forward bending exercises that work the posterior chain will be grouped in a single chapter called forward flexion, and so on. An ancillary benefit of this will be the ease of finding particular exercises.
In the multi-media version,aAll exercises will have embedded video, which will sit at the beginning of the chapter. A number of photographs will be organised on the page and a brief description of how to do the exercise will appear there. Long experience and discussion with many book readers in the past have shown me that the vast majority of buyers only use the Cues and look at the pictures—they don’t read the text at all, at least in the beginning. So each chapter will simply be the video, the pictures and the Cues, and then a hyperlink at the bottom of that one page to take the reader to the text part of the book where all the ancillary information can be found.
When I wrote my Master’s thesis I was trying to fit a lot of information into a relatively small word count—and footnotes are not counted in the word count! Accordingly my Masters thesis was structured with a surface narrative and all the supporting information appeared in footnotes. The footnotes word count was greater than the surface narrative. All examiners told me that this was a brilliant way of organising information and actually made the thesis much easier to read, so I’m going to use a similar approach, but just the modern version of it: hyperlinks.
One potential problem remains, of course. In the modern era of the Internet, with information exploding and multiplying exponentially, how will someone who wants to read my book actually find it? In my case I believe my YouTube channel which now has nearly 2000 subscribers will be one method of communication which simply did not exist five years ago. All subscribers receive notification of any new video, so if I decide to make a video announcing the existence of my new product, all of those people will learn about it directly and immediately. And another distribution channel will be the website. Then there is our reasonably extensive email list, which is somewhere around 1000 people now. The YouTube subscribers are an almost non-intersecting set with our email list—so we can contact over 3000 people directly as soon as the product is ready for distribution. My first book, Overcome neck & back pain, became a best seller in Australia when it sold 4,000 copies. What would we have given to have direct access to people who had demonstrated that they actually wanted that book?
Anyhow enough for today; I hear the coffee grinder going next door which is my signal to join Olivia for a morning conversation! More to come on this subject; tomorrow, I will discuss the books title, and what’s behind it.