Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is reading a zero sum game?

Zero-Sum Game:   A situation in which one participant's gains result only from another participant's equivalent losses. The net change in total wealth among participants is zero; the wealth is just shifted from one to another. 

I ask the question, Is reading a zero sum game? because from the press I hear and read about Kindles, iPads or eBooks in general and the future role of bookstores presumes there has to be a winner and a loser because there is only so much that will be read in any format. 

I don't think that is the case.  EBooks are here to stay and will continue to evolve, but books are not going away.  I ride the Metro-North commuter train into New York with great frequency.  This week I shared a seat with a woman that went back and forth from her Blackberry to reading a hardcover romance book to reading on her iPad.  I noticed everyone with some sort of ereader also had newspapers folded under their arms or a book tucked into briefcases and backpacks.  Michael Shatzkin's recent blog was very interesting reading,  He simply did the math based on the expected growth of eBooks and extrapolated the fate of bookstores (Where-will-bookstores-be-five-years-from-now).  I think he raises some very real and salient points, but the premise only works if reading is a Zero-Sum Game.

For the 'explosive' growth of e-books, retail book numbers have been  mostly flat based on the monthly numbers from the AAP.  While people are buying a lot more eBooks and just as many are still buying printed books.  There is no doubt that the future of publishing will be digital.    Certainly all the current controversies in publishing are around digital issues.  The Wylie Agency stuff has been fascinating to read on a daily basis for the last week or so.  However I don't see that printed books will drop in a corresponding number to the total # of eBooks sold.  I may be naive, but the day to day examples I see - people still love books.  The Pequot library in Fairfield (where I reside) had their annual book sale, it was front page news for the 3 local papers and drews crowds from hundreds of miles, I did my regular home book purge in my company kitchen and 30+ books were scooped by by almost as many people within an hour.  I was at the Bank Street Bookstore in Mystic last weekend, it was busy and we bought books for our boys.  Even, if I did own a KindlePadeReadingNook and did read somthing like Matterhorn on it, it would not stop me from buying books for my boys or people from grabbing a good read in my company kitchen or people going the annual Pequot Library Book Sale.....


  1. Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our sails, and let old bygones be.
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  2. Hey Steven Rosato , You wrote this post wonderfully for e book.