So, I have this crazy notion that paper will be sidelined for digital within the next five years. I tend to shock people by saying that “paper will be dead within five years”. Once that grabs the attention, I like to add that that is “dead” with an asterisk. What is the asterisk? By “dead” I mean that print books, magazines, comics, etc. will become much more of a niche market. I see print as slowly drifting to the edge of demand like the LP has within the music industry. I make the case that the pace of this change will soon increase to the point that five years will seem very reasonable and that change will be quicker for things like magazines and comics.
Here’s how I see the evolution of print media taking shape. As the cost of e-readers (be it your Kindle or your iPad or even in some cases just your phone) continues to drop, people will increasingly consume that content in a digital way. I see that trend only growing over time for a host of convenience reasons. Knowing that there isn’t all that big a margin on print books, the existing print market will begin to face increasing challenges meeting production costs. Hardbacks average roughly a 12% gross profit margin with 5% being the average net profit (reference askville). Controlling print costs and mass-producing each title generate a portion of this profit. Essentially, the more you print, the cheaper it costs to print each individual book. As digital usage rises, the numbers of each title printed will go down slowly raising the cost to produce each individual book. As that book becomes more costly to produce, either the price will rise for the consumer or the profit margin will shrink for the producer. As the cost rises, it will eventually become a market that caters to the individual who is willing to pay more to have it in the traditional form of paper further speeding the overall trend toward digital consumption. Over time, print will cease to be the standard and, instead, become a market that caters to those who are willing to go out of their way for the comfort of a printed book. I speculate that this will take five years.
The date of Thursday, May 19th 2011 was the first sign that my point, which I’ve been talked about and advocated over on ComicRelated.com for well over a year and a half, was beginning to take hold. That was the day that Amazon.com announced that e-books had taken the lead outselling print books. Let the games begin!
From storage costs to shipping costs to the need for brink and mortar stores to (in some cases) sell those books, there are so many expenses that will ultimately play into the evolution of print media. I feel that media that caters to smaller audiences will see the change first. Those would be areas like comics, magazines and newspapers. We’re already seeing this trend take shape as sales drop and digital consumption increases taking advantage of new ways to deliver enhanced content with each new publication.
This week on the show, Ginny Tonic and I discuss the topic and share some additional thoughts. Does she call crazy? Do we love or lament the possible coming change? What are the positives or negatives of all this? Tune in Wednesday and hear more!