Thursday, January 21, 2010

Readership’s Metamorphosis

Reflecting on a 2009 year end online feed I read about Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2010 ( – two involved readership: Borders and Newsweek, both of which are experiencing serious financial woes. Made me question, is readership morphing?

Read On:
Hardcover sales, the spine of the book industry, have been on the decline for the past two years, but finally rebounded in 2009 according to the Association of American Publishers. Thanks to strong October sales, hardcover sales were up 3.9 percent versus the previous year. Adult paperback and the adult mass market categories were down. However, both the children’s hardcover and paperback sales were up. No surprise, net sales of e-books continue to show sizeable gains; for the period of January thru October 2009 they reached $130.7 million compared to $46.6 million for the same period in 2008, a 180.7% increase. Remember those are documented trademarked sales of e-books which only account for 3% of total trade sales. Readers are appropriating free copies via piracy sites like RapidShare, Megaupload, etc. Industry experts are concerned that the book industry is at a crossroads similar to the music industry which got “Napsterized” by free file sharing. Experts project that 20 to 30 percent of book readers are using digital as their primary form of reading books or the URL linked footnotes to chapters, paragraphs or even sentences published by professional readers. As a result, some authors are already giving away free e-books in recognition that they can build awareness, thus sell more printed copies.

Second, the technology of reader devices as they advance will contribute to readership’s metamorphosis, especially for magazines. Readers will be able to customize the delivery of their content. Here is a link (
) to Sports Illustrated’s demo about their future product utilizing a tablet computer. When you view the demo, you will learn that people can circumvent an advertisement which does not bode well for the magazine industry. Keep in mind, Newsweek‘s 2009 decline in advertising, an estimated 30%, was a major contributing factor to their poor financial performance.

Then there is the Internet and its potential influence. People are now receiving their news via online feeds, blogs, network discussion groups, etc. The Harris Interactive poll released this past December indicated that 80 percent of U.S. adults go online an average of 13 hours per week with a wide range of variation – twenty percent 2 hours or less, fourteen percent 24 hours or more.

Last, but not least, what influences will the video game industry have on readership? A 2009 Nielson Video Tracking survey indicated that people were spending more time playing games in the first six months of the year versus the same period in 2008. The increases spanned all genders and age groups. However it is worth noting that males 18 to 24 showed some of the largest increases with gains, between 16% and 29% for each month; young females age 13 to 17 exhibited the most substantial gains within female segments, between 12 and 30%. My query, will they eventually put down their games to read or are their future gaming habits already established?

In summation, readership’s metamorphosis is a work in progress.


  1. I view declining readership as a negative indicator for society. Reading requires use of imagination and critical thinking, two key components of problem-solving. I hail technological advances and hope that readership is only "morphing" and not really declining, but fear a future ballot filled with gamers not readers. But then is that any worse than current ballots?

  2. My concern with using the 'net alone as the primary source is two-fold: (1) people will gravitate to thier favorite sites only (Fox, Huffington, etc) and get only part of the story, and (2) often commentaries are not identified as such and are received as "news". A newspaper --- or news magazine --- clearly define their editorial or commentary as such; the net often does not. Therefore, readers can be manipulated by opinions rather than forming their own. Futhermore, with the loss of fairly "neutral" sources (newspapers, TV news, etc) we may end up with only commentary and partisian sources. Its a sad trend that I hope can be slowed, and reversed, in my lifetime.

  3. Jim,

    Great blog to get the juices flowing on possible futures and impact. Human nature being what it is, I believe the youngsters will adapt to the brave new world just fine.

    It wasn't too many years ago that only the monks could read,write,and spin knowledge for the masses through hand written books. Guttenberg must have scared the pants off established mores with the printing press, albeit society moved on fine.

    Just gave the monks some competition on spinning stories that lead to the "Age of Reason", we are all better for it.

    Good read, thanks Jim for doing the brand research, good stuff.......