In 1986, Eddy Shah founded the UK newspaper Today. For the newspaper industry it was a landmark occasion with new printing techniques and practices changing everything they knew. But the paper’s readers will remember it for one thing – colour printing. Unions argued about it. Critics questioned it. But newspaper publishing was never the same again. New technology had irrevocably changed the whole business.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since those heady days. But change is in the air in publishing once more. A new survey in the UK shows that hardback and paperback sales fell 6.5 per cent in 2013. And similarly the year before. Meanwhile another two million readers joined the digital book and e-reader market in the first nine months of last year. New devices with better capabilities are emerging all the time. They are likely to herald another new wave of revolution in publishing. They will more easily enable new and different content to sit alongside the traditional printed words.
This is already happening to some degree in the education and professional sector. After all, why buy a textbook with just words and diagrams when you can include active video and assessments as well? Bear in mind the school textbook market is worth £475 million. The academic and professional market another £947 million. In total that is around 45 per cent of all the trade so this is a major change.
In many ways it seems odd to divorce ‘books’ from other ways of presenting information. But just as we didn’t see the need for colour in the news, there is probably still a big social gap to bridge before many people will reconcile themselves to such media integrations.
The good news is that new technologies such as HTML5 are helping publishers to more easily offer more powerful content. New tools like Netex learningMaker make it easy to combine, produce and publish multimedia viewable and downloadable to all sorts of devices.
In 1986, it was primarily the unions that tried to hold back the tide. This time there will probably be more generational and social objections to change. But as always change is inevitable.