The future is not just digital, its physical too

The world of the future will be all digital, right? Books, for example, will just be quaint souvenirs of an old fashioned world before Kindles, iPads and smartphones.

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Well, here are a few trivia questions to explore this, based on this report. Write your answers down before your scroll down the post. No peeking.

1. What % of book sales value do you think were digital in the first half of 2012 in the UK?

2. What was the increase/decrease in sales value of DIGITAL books in the same period?

3. What was the increase/decrease in sales value of PHYSICAL books?

4. What was the increase/decrease in sales value of TOTAL books?

Got your answers?

1. % of book sales digital 1st half 2012 = 13%

2. Digital books = +88%

3. Physical books = -0.3%

4. Total books = + 6.1%

Interesting eh? I expect most people would guess that physical books are in heavier decline, are less than 87% of the market, and that total sales of books would be down. What can we learn from this?

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1. "The myth of substitution"

People wrongly assume that the arrival of a new technology always means the replacement of the old one. But the books example shows this is false. Total book sales actually went up. The arrival of eReaders mean that are more occasions and opportunities for people to buy and read books. 

2. Some old technology can fight back

In some cases, new technology does destroy the old version. This happens when the new technology's value proposition is totally superior, as was the case with photography. Analogue film cameras couldn't compete with snapping photos on a smartphone and storing them on your PC for free.

However, this is not always the case. Physical books have many advantages, and this is why sales seem quite resilient. They don't break. You can mark your page. You can flick back and forth between pages. They're easy to read in the sun. And you You can give them as a gift. Indeed, Xmas 2012 physical book sales of £75.4m were up 2%, and the highest since 2009, according to reports here.

3. We still like to "get physical"

Beyond the value proposition of physical versus digital books, there is something deeper going on here as well, I think. This is the idea that we still enjoy physical experiences. Indeed, in an ever more digital world, physical experiences can become even more important and desireable, when done well.

Look at the growth of Moleskine, the maker of leather-bound notebooks, that I posted on here. Sales have risen from €29m in 2006 to more than €200m in 2011, as reported here.

In conclusion, there are lots of exciting opportunities to grow by going digital. But there are also other opportunities that are perhaps overlooked. Perhaps we should follow the immortal words of Olivia Newton John: "Let's get physical"?