Death of the Guide Book: Apps vs. Books

While I hate when people call ‘the death of bookshops’ I do think we are starting to see the death, albeit slowly, of some types of books. Pundits have always believed that the first books to disappear in the new era of digital and eBooks would be textbooks. But this hasn’t been the case cat all. And it hasn’t been because of a lack of availability, students still prefer physical text books as was recently noted in the New York Times.

The threat to some books is not the eBook version but new technologies and their applications. Street Directories are the first victim with sales down 20% in Australia (source: Nielsen BookScan). As GPS units become more affordable, particularly through mobile phones, more people have shied away from updating their Gregory’s or UBD. While GPS’s are not perfect they are much more user-friendly than a street directory, fold out maps or directions printed out off the net (their directions can also be ignored with serious consequences to your relationship).

Travel guides seemed like the next logical victim but sales have remained strong in this area. I think this is partly because so many people now make their own travel arrangements rather than using a travel agent and travel guides are still a great resource for this. Again maps seem to be the victim as not only can you take your GPS overseas for a driving holiday but map apps like on the iPhone are far more convenient and discreet (but beware mega data charges if you don’t set up a plan beforehand or unlock you SIM).

The books I think will be the next to start to disappear are the annual wine and restaurant guides. At our shop it has already started to happen. The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide has been an institution in our shop but since they launched an iPhone App last year we have started to see sales dip (no pun intended). This year a James Halliday Wine Guide app was released at the same time as the book and sales have dipped 30% in our store. National figures don’t reflect a general trend yet on these guides but it may just be a timing factor as both guides have only been out a couple of months.

For a bookseller it can be very frustrating. Often we are not even told there will be a competing app when we place our orders and other times, incredulously, the competing app is listed as part of marketing and promotion for the book (although there are apps which are purely promotional).

The convenience factor is the big reason why books’ sales are losing against iPhone apps and I think that will be what dictates where this trend continues. We are starting to see it in cooking but thankfully the more popular chef like Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver have kept their books and apps separate rather than trying to duplicate them and therefore cannibalizing one over the other.

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