14 January 2019 Business

The first edition of the new year is good news for print

Books may be buoyant, but that does not mean print should be taken for granted.

The news about books is all positive. Sales of printed books are up. More independent book shops opened in 2018 (though my personal favourite finally closed down, though that was about secondhand not newly published books). And this interest is not confined to the UK. In the US publishers and consumers are learning to live with delays to orders because there is not enough US book production capacity to cope with demand.

Books have frequently been the advance party of print, in terms of technology and attitudes to ink on paper: the first to use digital printing and now inkjet printing. Printed books were the first too to be threatened with extinction by a 'better' digital alternative. The revival in the printed book now may be down to some huge titles, the Michelle Obama book let alone several background books about the current occupant of the White House, for example. Perhaps the printed book is the ultimate counter to fake news, Twitter, Facebook and all the digital noise that defines 21st century living. The time and effort needed to produce a book gives print a gravitas that something on a phone lacks.

But the existential threat from Kindle has spurred a rise in standards for book design and production, the choice of papers and embellishments. It is as if publishers and printers are deploying everything in the arsenal to make reading a book a pleasurable, enticing activity. In a radio interview this week, both presenter and guest commented about the production quality of the book in hand, unheard of a decade ago. The big question is whether this can apply to other print products if they are given the same care, the same quality and the same investment by printer and customer. I'd like to think it can, but suspect that it will be a long journey. Print should not be taken for granted.

Gareth Ward