Digital vs. physical

Over the last few weeks I’ve been espousing the benefits of a digital economy and at the risk of going on about it ad nauseam, I have to share what happened to me this week to convince me more than ever that digital is the way to go.

I suppose you all know by now that I recently published my first novel on the Amazon Kindle Store. Since then a friend suggested that I should also publish a printed version so that the book would have a physical presence. Quite a number of people were also asking me if I was going to print a paperback since they either didn’t have Kindles or preferred to read the old fashioned way.

In order to satisfy my potential customers, I went on Createspace (an Amazon affiliated company) and published the printed version free of cost and brought in a shipment. Since I used expedited shipping I knew that a significant part of my cost would be the shipping charges, however I foolishly did not factor in the VAT that I would have to pay when the books landed.

I think that was because with my first two books, no VAT was charged because of their classification. Anyway, when DHL called me to tell me the charges for handling and VAT I nearly had a coronary! The Government was making almost as much as me and for doing what?

Right there and then I decided that that was my first and last shipment. While I won’t lose any money (assuming that I sell all the books) it really doesn’t make economic sense for me to bring in physical books, so I’m afraid that if anyone here wants a paperback they will have to go on Amazon and either have it shipped here or wait until someone is coming in and get them to bring it.

If I needed further convincing about the joys of digital, and I don’t, is the fact that I can make more royalties on a US $3.99 Kindle book that I can make on the physical book, whether Amazon sells it or if I bring it in at the author’s reduced price. In addition to that, when I bring in the physical book it costs the country more foreign exchange than if a local person downloads the Kindle version.

I’m not suggesting that we totally do away with our physical economy; we can’t. However we desperately need to create a digital economy to run parallel to the physical. As I’ve said before, Barbados and Barbadians have a lot of knowledge, but what we need to do is to turn that knowledge into digital products that we can sell to the world and earn foreign exchange. The time is ripe because people are hungry for knowledge, for information that will make them more efficient, more effective and make their life easier.

What is also good is that although we are in a recession, people are still willing to spend on entertainment. I have come across people who can’t pay their bills but will still buy movies to watch. When I first encountered that I couldn’t understand that thinking, but then I came to realise that it is an escape.

So when someone is deep in debt or concerned that their job may be in jeopardy, it’s easy for them to go to Amazon and download a book for $3.99 and lose themselves in it for a few hours.

I guess our default mechanism is to think of a physical item we can make. After all that’s how we were conditioned before the digital era. I met up with a security guard this week and he told me that he wants to write books and someday own a bookshop. I’m glad that he at least has a dream so I didn’t want to burst his bubble by telling him that bookshops are going out of business because readers’ habits are changing and there is a major move towards digital downloads and e-books.

A friend of mine recently told his daughter that making jewellery may be fun but the way to go was to create a video showing people how to make jewellery and sell that. That way you only do the work once and you reap the benefits for as long as people will buy the video. We desperately need to find ways to work smarter and not harder and I’m convinced that digital is the way to go.

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