by Felix Lehane
Throughout the press a border is often drawn between bricks-and-mortar and online retail, between printed books and eBooks, between new technology and older, more traditional industries. There tends to be a huge emotional weight attached to this. Developments in technology are called a “revolution”, their competition with conventional industries announced as a “takeover”.
Any sign that traditional industries are growing faster than tech is heralded as a victory against the march of technology. This week a rise in printed book sales against a decline in the eBook market was reported by the Daily Mail as a sign that children are turning their backs on e-books. But why should we see so-called “traditional” media and business as separate from or opposed to innovation? Recent developments have been enhancing print books and bricks-and-mortar shops, bridging the gap between them and their online counterparts.
Many new developers are working on enhancing print books with innovative technology, combining the magic of paper with the power of tech. Hybrid Books give paper books the benefit of enhanced eBooks, by including QR codes in the text which can be scanned with a smartphone link to digital resources such as curated text, photographs, maps and illustrations related to it. Sensory Fiction, on the other hand, creates an augmented reading experience, with a connected book to portray scenery and mood, and wearable tech that conveys sensory experiences to match the changing emotions of the protagonist, such as modifying the wearer’s heart rate and body temperature.
The chasm between online and offline retail is also being filled in a number of other industries – retail, for example, is blending the two. Recently Boohoo joined a growing list of online retailers opening up physical shops. The most famous of these are Amazon’s bookshops, which stock the most popular books from its site. Conventional shops are also incorporating increasing levels of technical innovation. Many businesses are installing IoT sensors in various places around their shops to monitor stock freshness and keep track of the way physical shop spaces are used. The data such sensors create is fed back into real-world developments, such as rearranging shops and having these sensors in fridges to order more produce before they run out.
As IoT technology begins to bring data and the internet into the objects of our everyday lives, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the online and the offline as separate worlds. Even news outlets such as The Daily Mail, whose online readership has now become much greater than its print take-up, note the resurgence of printed children’s books as a kind of victory against technology, and this draws attention to the contradiction at the heart of the dichotomy we draw between technology and traditional media. It also highlights the need for good communications from tech firms: valuable public relations work can retell the story. Rather than at war, tech and traditional mediums can work together to each other’s benefit.