According to Deloitte, physical books aren’t going to disappear in a wave of ebooks. What’s more, contrary to popular opinion younger readers prefer print to ebooks more than the average population.
I had the pleasure to learn this, and many other wonderfully geeky things, at a presentation by Duncan Stewart on what the next twelve months will bring for technology. (If you do not know about Deloitte’s TMT Predictions series, I recommend you check it out when it comes around next year.)
Something not in the online summary I link to above is Duncan’s assertion that Millennials (in this case, generally 18-35) don’t have the same proclivity to pirate books as they do music, movies or television programs. That is, while they won’t hesitate to torrent a whole season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, they will pay for A Game of Thrones and preferably in print.
Stewart proposed several possible, non-mutually exclusive reasons for this, to which I am adding some of my own ideas and interpretations.
First is the view of stealing from a corporation versus sole authorship. Films, movies and music are seen as products of large corporate entities. Corporations are out to make money at any cost, the viewpoint is, so stealing from them has almost a Robin Hood feel to it. It is an act of righteous rebellion against Big Business. A book, however, is the work of one, sole author. Pirating a book is not striking a blow against a corporation, but stealing from one of the least glamourous artistic forms.
Next, there is the little physical difference between watching an episode of Breaking Bad that you purchased on iTunes versus torrented from Pirate Bay. You download it and play it on your laptop or tablet, or stream it to your television. ebooks are different. While some are epubs or mobis with cracked security, others have been mangled when the security was cracked and still more are poor quality PDF scans of the entire book. This does not compare to the experience of opening the front cover and turning to page one. More than this, you need a device to see or hear music or movies. Books are much more direct and serve as tangible artifacts to a certain period in a person’s life.
But the last theory really struck me is the ability to identify with artists. By the time we are 20, we have abandoned dreams of being movie stars or rock gods. We are either fully committed to acting or music, or we treat it as a hobby and know our career path lies elsewhere. But many people, at any age, see themselves as potential writers. We’ve probably all known someone who claimed she or he would right a book when they retired. So while there is little hesitancy to steal from the millionaire actors or musicians Millenials know they will never be, stealing a book feels like an offence committed against a future self.
So while there is something that takes me a bit aback at the idea that anyone thinks they can write a book and it is not as challenging as writing and recording songs, I hope there are those out there who will follow through with that dream.