The Battle for the Book Debate

On the 1st of December 2012, six major figures in the book industry – Fiona Hyslop, MSP; Neil Best, head of Waterstone’s business development; Karen Cunningham, head of libraries and cultural venues in Glasgow; Sara Hunt, publisher at Saraband Books; Ewan Morrison and Pat Kane, both writers – came together to discuss the future of the book. If we were to agree with their arguments, without Amazon and the digital revolution, it would be a bright future indeed. But e-books and Amazon exist and aren’t likely to dwindle any time soon, in fact, they’re prevalence in the industry is likely to continue is rather epic growth.

Karen Cunningham argued that libraries and physical books cannot be separated. E-books are “not the answer,” she said, especially when it comes to children. But if e-books are (and they certainly seem to be) the future how does the already endangered library survive? She also said, though, that virtual books might bring about virtual libraries, and she didn’t seem too terribly upset about this prospect.

Neil Best, whose livelihood, like Cunningham’s, might hinge on the endurance of the printed word, argued that e-books won’t overtake printed books (which I tend to agree with, at least for the time being) as the preferred way to read, but may actually enable publishers, authors, and booksellers to offer enhanced content/added value. Then Best brought up what probably everyone in the audience was thinking about: the dreaded scarlet Amazon. He spoke briefly and democratically about Waterstone’s acquisition of the Kindle. He called it a “compromise,” but did he mean a cooperation of two large companies or something more sinister with the word?

Sara Hunt and to some extent, Ewan Morrison then spoke pointedly about the evils of Amazon, without really naming any names. They railed against the problem of “discounting and global economics,” The ‘choose your own pricing adventure’ if you will, that stiffs the publisher and the author and steals consumers from the booksellers – both the big players and the little indies. They were passionate about this, sure, but they seemed to have no idea how to prevent it.

It was all quite congenial in the end, and though the panelists got their back-handed digs in at Amazon and the e-book, they all – and by a show of hands, we all – agreed that books, publishers, authors, booksellers, what have you, have a bright future. But whether this ‘decision’ was made thoughtfully and informatively or just to preserve our own self-interest, only time will tell.