retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

The New York Times had a story saying that while there have been many predictions about the death of physical books as customers move more and more to e-readers like the Kindle and iPad, "the digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule. While analysts once predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015, digital sales have instead slowed sharply."

In fact, the story says, "there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

"E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television." And, the story goes on, "independent bookstores, which were battered by the recession and competition from Amazon, are showing strong signs of resurgence. The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago."

I think this is what's called a resurrection of sorts.

At the same time, the Washington Post had a story about a new Pew Research survey in which, "of Americans 16 and older, 30 percent said that libraries should 'definitely' move some print books and stacks out of public locations to make way for other resources such as technology centers, meeting rooms and space for cultural events. Nearly just as many, 25 percent, were just as adamant that libraries should not. Forty percent of those surveyed said that libraries should 'maybe' do that."

I think that's what's called a split decision.

Pew comments that the results indicate that "libraries’ traditional services and ‘business model’ are valued by many citizens ... Yet at the same time, there is a clear public hunger for new programs, more services for key constituencies, and changes in the longtime look and feel of these community spaces.”

So what does this all mean?

I think what the lesson that all this data teaches us is that people increasingly are hard to categorize, hard to slot into this or that model of behavior. More and more, people are respond to that which seems to have value to them and that seems relevant to how they live their lives. Marketing of products and services can't be one-size-fits-all, because people aren't one-size-fits-all. That's young people, but also baby boomers.

When it comes to books, I've become a dedicated user of the Kindle app on my iPad ... but there also are books that I will buy in hardcover simply because I like the writer and want to have the physical book experience. It all sort of depends on the writer, my mood, my travel schedule, and probably a whole bunch of other influences of which I'm not even aware.

It is a mistake to think that there are absolutes. The other day I got interviewed about e-commerce, and the first question was whether I thought e-commerce would grow to the point where it would put traditional bricks-and-mortar stores out of business. Of course not ... e-commerce is going to grow, and will be an increasingly important factor in how people shop. If your bar for success is that 100% of shopping has to be done online, well, then, forget it. I think that 10 or 15 or 20 percent would represent an enormous shift ... and I've seen nothing to convince me that it is anything less than inevitable.

Revolutions don't occur in neat packages and in straight lines. That doesn't make them any less revolutionary. In fact, sometimes it makes them more so.

As for libraries .... again, it is dangerous to paint with a broad brush. I think that libraries that need to evolve into something larger will do so ... and it will depend on where they are and who their customers are. It'll be different depending whether the libraries are in urban, suburban or rural markets, and it'll be different depending on what part of the country they're in.

Here's the one thing you can take to the bank: Libraries that need to evolve but don't will find themselves out of business. Libraries that need to evolve and do will have longer and more interesting lives.

Are we in for a digital apocalypse? Who knows?

But I do love the smell of disruption in the morning. It smells of ... victory.

That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: