Brian Tibbetts

July 1, 2015

Publishing and Technology: Talkin’ Bout That Generation (Gap)


Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about those pesky Millennials and how they still won’t (or rather just don’t) buy ebooks. This week’s post was touched off by an article by Charlotte Eyre on the website The Bookseller regarding information released in Deloitte’s Media Consumer 2015: The Signal and the Noise report. Though the statistics reported in the document are specific to Deloitte’s research in the United Kingdom, I think it’s safe to make some general extrapolations from the data regarding U.S. consumers.

The gist of the article on The Bookseller was that, though Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation we’ve seen to date, they are not embracing the ebook (not even as they emerge from their tween years). In fact, it may be a bit of a mistake to market ebooks to this generation at all. And, though most respondents in the Deloitte sample did purchase a book (regardless of format) in the past year, they were least likely to have purchased it in ebook form, and did report that the majority of their media consumption was focused on other non-print media. None of this should come as much of a surprise for anyone who’s been even loosely aware of trends in media consumption and publishing. But, it does point to an area of continuing concern for all of us who make a living off of the written word.

So, how do you get millennials (and Generation Z – if that’s what we’re really going to call what’s next) to buy books, if not via e-readers? As I’ve mentioned in the past, according to the white paper put out by Thad McElroy of Digital Book World in December of last year on the 11 Topmost Digital Book Publishing Trends and Opportunities, “the future is ripe for innovators, change agents and book business entrepreneurs.” The problem seems to be that there is very little actual front-end innovation happening in the book publishing world. It’s as if publishers figured that all they needed to do was to come up with a way to digitally deliver the same product and they were done moving into the future. Imagine if radio had tried to compete with that new thing called television by simply broadcasting audio-only programming on unused television channels. Or, and perhaps more to the point, imagine if book publishers had begun broadcasting scrolling text on unused television channels. Converting an old medium (no matter how beloved) to a highly-limited version of a new medium and expecting everyone (especially those young enough to feel little to no nostalgia for the old medium) to continue using it in favor of the new one seems more than a little foolhardy. The time is past ripe for true innovation in book publishing.

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  • I think the Expresso Book Machine has the potential as the next innovative step.
    MillennialsMillenials may not want ebooks, but they tend to like things that are new and different. When they go into a physical book store they only have options based on what execs think will sell the most–not much breadth of story there. But if they have the opportunity to walk out of the store with something pulled from a vast list found on a search screen, that was printed right there on the spot (in five minutes) and still warm like a fresh-baked brownie, they may just be more willing to try something new. The tech is not yet efficient for mass use yet, but I hope to see it in stores soon.

  • KD Rose says:

    Welcome to my world. You echo the exact same thing I said in my article The Re-emergence of the Book. If only those in the position to make changes would act as catalysts. Here is one site my article is on:

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