Here’s a fact: If you can reliably predict where an industry is headed–any industry–AND you can predict the timing of the changes that will occur in that industry, you will be worth your weight in gold.
Because, fact of the matter is, most people can’t. They either don’t see where things are headed. Or they’re wrong about the timing.
A few examples from when I was graduating college.
I somehow ended up with an interview for a business development position for a major television station. (I think it was a glitch in the recruiting system.) The man I interviewed with was insanely excited about the future of streaming television via computers.
And, if that interview had occurred about six years ago, he would’ve been dead on. But this was closer to fifteen years ago. And I, as a major television watcher, didn’t see it happening yet. He thought there’d be sufficient interest for the market to explode within the next three years. I knew that I had dial-up internet access and hadn’t even bothered paying for that the year I was off from college and there was no way someone in my age bracket was going to pay for the type of internet service you’d need to support streaming television.
(NOTE: If you actually want a job offer, try to agree with the vision of the person interviewing you. Don’t tell them they’re wrong.)
Another example from my college interviews. I had to write an essay evaluating an article that discussed four new trends in airline tickets. One of the trends in that article was a kiosk that would be placed in a building’s lobby so that someone could print out their paper ticket on the way to the airport.
Great idea about five years earlier. But I had just flown to that interview using an e-ticket and I couldn’t see the point in developing kiosks for printing airline tickets when customers could use e-tickets instead.
(NOTE: If you want a job and are asked to write an essay evaluating different options, be polite about your analysis and don’t call an idea stupid, even if it is.)
Now, I have missed the boat many, many times myself. I didn’t buy a house when I first moved to DC and then watched properties almost double in value over the next couple of years. When I finally did buy a house it was at the peak of the market.
And I’m sure there are many, many other times I’ve been off about what would happen or when. (But those aren’t any fun to remember.)
So, bottom line. I think it’s important to acknowledge that most people most of the time are really only guessing when they say where things are headed.
The reason I’m writing about this is because I read an article by an industry pro yesterday predicting that physical bookstores aren’t going to survive. It’s not the first one I’ve read. And there have been others predicting the demise of paper books.
I also read an article last week by an industry pro talking about how e-books are not going to replace paper books anytime soon because he doesn’t see the teenagers moving to purely digital.
So, who’s right?
Well, I look at my own experience.
I received a Kobo a few years back when I was traveling internationally a lot and living in a country where a paperback book cost $20. And, even with the then cheap pricing on e-books (they all doubled overnight at some point while I was there) I still carried about five or six paper books with me each time I flew back and forth.
Why? Because books I wanted weren’t available. And browsing for books on the Kobo platform was misery. At the time there were a bunch of “books” with generic covers at very low prices and I just couldn’t wade through the crap to get to what I wanted. So, I ended up buying very specific books on the Kobo, but left my impulse buying to books I saw in a physical bookstore and I got a membership to the local library.
Move ahead a few years and I’m doing this self-publishing thing so I look at Amazon. But I have similar issues with them. Their categories suck. They’re either weirdly named or books are in categories that they should never be in. (GRRM in humor? Really? One funny character does not qualify a book for listing under humor.)
I can’t weed out books by price range, so I’m stuck weeding through pages of books I don’t want to look at. Because, as a reader, I still don’t trust self-published books. (Ironic, I know.)
So what do I do to find books? I go to Barnes and Noble. And I walk up and down the shelves in the SFF section and I look at what they have. Usually I buy authors I already know, but occasionally I find someone new sitting next to an author I know.
Or I look at my list of books that others have mentioned to me and I pick from that.
Also, let’s look at which books I’m actually reading versus which ones I own but haven’t read. Well, let’s see. I bought Old Man’s War at least a year ago in e-book format as part of a Humble Bundle. Still haven’t read it. I want to read it, but out of sight, out of mind.
The books I read are the paper ones. The ones that sit there accusing me that I haven’t read them yet.
I would love to love my e-book. And maybe it’s because I have a Kobo that’s a few years old. But every time I want to grab it and run out the door it seems that I need to charge it. And, I think this may have changed, but I wasn’t allowed to keep reading it as my plane took off or landed. So, there went forty-five minutes when I would have been reading a paper book and instead now had to pretend to read the airline magazine or (heaven forbid) talk to the stranger sitting next to me.
No. Better to have a paperback.
Now, if B&N goes kaput for some other reason, I may have no choice but to turn online to find books. I just don’t see it happening as long as they do exist.
Of course, I’m part of a specific demographic. Perhaps the younger generations behind me can navigate the search function on Amazon. Or, more likely, are heavy users of sites like Goodreads and that’s where they discover new books. And perhaps they love using their e-readers.
I don’t think e-books are going away. I think they will be a strong part of the market. But my mom recently bought an e-reader and I’m not sure how impressed she is by it. She bought a 99 cent book with crappy editing and some backlist stories by her favorite authors, none of which were an enjoyable read for her. And, last I checked, she’s still buying many paper books. Hard covers. So, for a non-price-sensitive consumer who doesn’t travel much, I just don’t think e-books are positioned to suck someone like her in.
And, because I had such a negative experience with them when I first tried them, I think I’m a good three to five years from giving e-books another serious try.
So, to me, at least timing-wise the doomsayers that predict the end of the paper book and the physical bookstore are off. Twenty years from now could they be right? Eh, maybe. Two? No.
(Of course, it’s the people who believe things like this will happen who take those first steps that drive innovation that eventually makes it reality. Without those early optimistic people developing the technology in a vacuum, it never happens.)