As many of you know, I have been a bit “under wraps” since this time last year. Over that year, there have been quite a few technology changes … all seemingly pointing to the demise of the printed book. Within a few short days and about 5 hours hanging around airports, I’m convinced that the printed book is here to stay.
About two weeks ago, I got an email saying that my youngest son was going to receive an award as a Top 50 Scholar athlete at the university he is attending. I had done virtually no air traveling since flying there for the same event a year ago and was quite excited at the prospect of going there again this year. Over the past year, I was busy with chemo treatments and a bonus stem cell transplant. I had stopped using public transportation, almost completely. Observations to and from New York City on the commuter trains had provided me research data on publishing market trends for years. Seeing is believing … no matter what the industry hype would lead you to believe. I had avoided more than one dead end, over the years by just observing people. If they weren’t using a particular product or technology, it meant that it probably wasn’t being used. Peter Lynch, of Fidelity Magellan Fund fame, made tens of millions of dollars using this same method of research. If he wouldn’t use the product personally, he didn’t buy the stock, no matter what the “numbers” looked like.
My main business is books … printed books … real books … ink on paper. If I don’t print books, I don’t eat. I’ve been in the printing and related industries for over 40 years. For probably 39 out of those 40 years, I’ve listened to various naysayers predicting the end of the printed product. While various components of the printing industry have changed, the printed product is still alive and well, I certainly believed … but I needed to see it again, just to make sure.
My own family has added a few new gadgets over the past year. My wife and son both have “Smart” phones. My son’s phone is smart enough that he still never answers if I call, unless he needs money. My wife’s SmartPhone gets a bit of a workout. She loves it. We haven’t found any secret Pizza joints with it but I’m sure we will, some day. The email function is used mainly as an email delete gadget. This is not good news for email marketers, if others use it the same way, which my guess is they do. In fact, I’ll send you a $25 off coupon if you are actually reading this article on a smart phone. Unfortunately I probably won’t be sending many coupons because the email more than likely got deleted somewhere around “The Printed Book is … ” Personally, I still have a dial phone in the basement. It gets a dial tone every time I pick up the receiver to make a call and it has never needed to be upgraded or replaced (unlike the smart phones that seem to break about a year and a half into a two year contract) My family also has a Kindle, iPad, NetBook, laptop and various iPods or similar devices, all designed for our traveling enjoyment.
I normally try to go to Ohio non-stop but I wanted to use my frequent flyer miles so I had to book the trip changing planes in Philadelphia. I was a little nervous about checking a bag on a flight where I changed planes so I decided to travel with only my briefcase So, instead of traveling with my laptop that I would normally have packed with my clothes in a checked bag, I went with a change of clothes and toiletries my NetBook and charger, my iPad, my iPod knockoff and a few magazines in my carry on. I was ready to go. There would be plenty of time to observe people.
My travel day started bright and early in White Plains Airport, north of the city near my house. White Plains is a tiny airport so there were not a lot of people there to observe. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a newspaper and waited for my plane to be called. Pretty much everyone else in the waiting room was doing the same thing. I saw a few earphones so I guess some people were listening to music. A few were giving their thumbs a workout on their smart phones, I assume deleting email. No Kindles, laptops, iPads or talking on the phone, for that matter. I guess it was early.
The flight to Philadelphia was pretty short. I was on a small commuter plane with about 15 rows. There was not much time in between the “No electronic devices” announcement on takeoff and the repeat of that announcement on descent so everyone pretty much either stared off into space or glanced at the inflight magazine (printed, of course). The plane arrived in Philadelphia pretty much on time. I got to the gate for the flight to Columbus with about an hour to spare and it was mid-morning in a much larger airport so there were plenty of people to observe.
When I first scanned the waiting room, it was somewhat of a shock. I had scanned waiting rooms for many years and had a pretty good mental image of what one looked like. This one was definitely different. It seemed as if everyone, as far as the eye could see was wired in one way or another. Half appeared to be clutching some sort of smart phone device. The other half seemed to be holding a laptop or electronic tablet of some sort or another. I don’t know that I saw a single book being read. Wow, I thought. Maybe the printed book really is dead. How’s the old saying go … “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is?” After my initial shock, the light bulb went off and I realized that the airport had free wifi. Of course everyone was hooked up to their electronic whatnots. In fact, they were doing what people have been doing for decades in airports … killing time between flights. I decided to take a little closer look so I got up and started walking around to see what people were actually doing.
By the end of my hour walk, I had not seen a single book being read on any of the various electronic devices. There was not a single Kindle among the hundreds of visible electronic devices. The people with the iPads or iPad lookalikes were all either playing games, looking at email or watching a movie. The Smart Phone people all seemed to be busy deleting emails. Some were even using it as a phone. While I didn’t see any books being read on electronic gadgets I actually did see quite a few people reading real printed books. There certainly weren’t as many as you would have seen a few years back but they were there … competing with other forms of entertainment not competing with different formats of the same product (eBook vs. printed book).
The other observation I made in Philadelphia was that the terminal I was in was being renovated so there were only a few stores. Among these few was Hudson News. What does Hudson News sell in addition to candy and a few souvenirs … books and newspapers.
I did the exact same thing on the trip home with the same results. If someone was reading a book, it was a book … a printed book. The electronic devices, all touted as eBook readers, the killer of the printed word, were being used for other forms of entertainment. Were there some Kindles packed in suitcases? Maybe. Did I miss one or two books being read on an iPad? Probably.
Meanwhile, the same person has been named for the past 5 years as the poster person for eBook sales. Seems like if there are so many eBooks being sold, a few more authors could have joined the poster person ranks. The Justice Department is all over Apple for price fixing. They have the right answer for making money with eBooks. Unfortunately it’s illegal. I’m not exactly sure how Amazon escaped the Department of Justice other than maybe they are still searching the Amazon website for a phone number.
How did I make out without my laptop? I found that trying to do anything but “play” on the iPad was like trying to type on an ATM machine. I ended up using it as an MP3 player and while my old reliable NetBook might be great for checking my fantasy baseball stats on the train in the morning, it wasn’t much use for any extended period of time, even when I was near a plug. What did I do to pass time when I wasn’t searching for an eBook being read on an ebook reader? I read the magazines I had packed, of course.
There has never been a better time to self-publish a book. The printed book is not going to disappear anytime soon. Reading has always competed with other forms of education, relaxation and entertainment. Today is no different.
A good place to start your self-publishing journey is to download a copy of Publishing Basics – Navigating the Self-Publishing Minefield at www.SelfPublishing.com.
Remember: If you were doing research 30 years ago, judging alcohol consumption by the number of empty beer cans in the back of automobiles in the local parking lot and used the same method today, you would conclude that people today have stopped drinking beer. Obviously they haven’t. They just don’t drink and drive anymore.