Red Button Publishing

Publishing and Consultancy

The myth of the ‘digital threat’ and the real threat to the book

It’s no secret that we’re big believers in ebooks here at Red Button. We started out as a digital-only publisher, mainly as it was a cheap and easy way to get our books in front of readers while we established ourselves and built up some capital. It was always in our plans to bring our books into paperback format, though. Not because we believe that print is inherently better than digital, but because we want readers to be able to read Red Button titles in the format they prefer.

The recent decision by Waterstones to remove Amazon Kindle devices from their stores seems to me to be a sensible one. They’re not selling in Waterstones, and why would they when you can order them direct from Amazon? The fact that Waterstones sells more print books than e-readers isn’t surprising – they are a print bookseller. But to draw the conclusion reached by some commentators (including this article in the Guardian), that this move somehow indicates the beginning of the end for the e-reader and therefore the ebook, is wrong. And it’s damaging.

This article echoes a rhetoric that has been running around the book industry since the first time someone uttered the word ‘digital’ in reference to a book. That it’s ‘print vs ebooks’. And within that rhetoric is the heavily implied assumption that the ebook is inherently bad and that the triumph of one means the death of the other. It seems impossible to comprehend that the two mediums could perhaps coexist, that digital books are an opportunity rather than the end of days. There’s the desperate hope that somehow, somehow, the ebook will just go away.

But digital isn’t the real threat to the book. The real threat comes in the ever multiplying forms of competition for the reader’s attention. The challenge we face as publishers is the increasingly urgent need to find readers, grab the attention of readers, hold the attention of readers and most importantly encourage a new generation of readers. Because digital content is here to stay and the challenge is to find stories that will endure no matter what format they are published in, stories that will pull the focus away from the social networks, games, television and other media that bombard our lives and compete for our attention every hour. Our focus should be on giving people great stories in the format they choose, not fighting some mythical battle against change. Because print and digital can coexist. They are doing so right now. Let’s stop predicting their respective deaths and start focusing on the readers.


Caroline Goldsmith 




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