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Bethany Sales

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Print vs. the Formidable E

Posted: 10/25/2012 4:30 pm

I thought long and hard after my first semester in Emerson's graduate Publishing program. My classes were interesting and my professors were incredibly experienced, but there was a hint of negativity in each article and newsletter that could not be denied. More and more bookstores were closing. Publishing houses were shuffling around funds to create digital divisions, though no one was entirely sure if these initiatives would pay off. Media experts were saying that print was dying, and the publishing industry was going down with it. I couldn't help but wonder what the hell I was thinking, enrolling in a publishing program at a time like this. Whether in class or at work, I was Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada and my job depended on figuring out whether Meryl Streep's twins wanted Harry Potter in print or E. Or else.

Then I calmed down. I did more research and spoke with my professors, most of whom had been in the industry for over 10 years. Publishing is changing, they said. Yes, traditional print is declining, slowly and with grace, but it will never be extinct. I agreed- there will always be a place for books, but now there must also be a place for E.

Few can deny the convenience of E and the aesthetic value of print. The choice comes down to the consumer. I work 40 hours a week and spend close to 10 more hours in class. Let me be more specific: I spend 40 hours a week working in front of a computer screen and, depending on the class, tack on another 4-8 hours of screen time. I associate computers with work, so I opt to read in print because it means I can disconnect for awhile. No screens, no buttons, no stress. Thinking as a consumer, since that's the point, the choice between print and E comes down to personal or professional convenience. Isn't that "no two readers are alike" argument enough to convince you that print and electronic formats can find equal ground?

Of course not. I'm not convinced either. I love to read in print, but if my local bookstores closed one by one and I was left with nothing but the paperback romance selection at Shaw's, what would I do? I'd buy an ereader. It's immediate gratification versus one-two weeks shipping. The average consumer isn't aware that Amazon often leverages its power over publishers with a "do this or we'll disable your buy buttons" top level threat. No, to these consumers, Amazon is an online retailer capable of unbeatable discounts and same day shipping. That's certainly how I saw the company before research and work experience taught me otherwise.

Now I support local booksellers because I'm all too aware of their struggle. I root for them while uploading my publisher's files to Amazon and cheer when they report an uptick in sales. I admire the developers at Amazon and B&N each time they release a new device, work hard so that my publisher can meet these latest demands, and then read my paperback at lunch. This is my dual reality as publisher and consumer.

The industry's jarring reality is E. Ebooks have taken up far more of the market share than anticipated. As publishers, we must capitalize on this new business opportunity and embrace competition. The future is E, without a doubt, so let's catch up and then get ahead. Let's experiment with digital marketing and, better yet, digital marketing in bookstores (gasp). I feel like the sky is the limit and publishers are keeping themselves grounded in a prolonged debate of print v. E. That's the thing about siding with print or E as the ultimate victor- you can't. It's too early to call it. But have you seen the latest tablet? I bet we could do something with that.

 
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