Societal Trends and the Print Book

I recently visited the homestead of James Buchanan Duke and discovered some interesting things about his brilliant man.

James Buchanan Duke was a North Carolinian who made his fortune in tobacco. In the late 1800’s, Duke supplied 40 percent of the American cigarette market and created the American Tobacco Company, which later was ruled as a monopoly by the Supreme Court and dissolved in 1911.

Duke and his brother also founded the Catawba Power Company and the Southern Power Company. Today, these companies are known as Duke Energy, a leading producer of electrical power in North Carolina. In spite of these great achievements, perhaps Duke is best known for his philanthropic endeavor as the founder of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

What I found to be one of the most impressive things about James Buchanan Duke was his marketing prowess. His tobacco company was growing during the time that advertising was just taking off in the United States. James did not hesitate to put the power of advertising to use. However, he did not just advertise the cigarettes he produced; he created a brand and used the brand to change people’s buying habits.

Not afraid to spend money on advertising, Duke created a campaign around the “Lucky Strike” cigarette. Using the slogan “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco,” he changed people’s buying habits from asking for cigarettes to asking for “Lucky Strikes.”

Yet even with great branding and a brilliant entrepreneurial mind, James Buchanan Duke could not stop the advancement of societal trends. One hundred years after his hey day with tobacco, the American sentiment toward tobacco has changed. The vast tobacco farms, tobacco warehouses, and cigarette factories no longer exist in North Carolina.

I cannot help but reflect: will publishing go the way of the tobacco industry?

Twenty years from now will the printing shops and the bookstores stand empty? Will books no longer be printed on paper? Will there be an entirely new model for the publishing industry that is completely digital?

I think it does not matter what great pieces of literature we publish or what outstanding branded marketing campaigns we run. We cannot change the advancement of society. Our society is moving rapidly toward digitalization. One day in the not too distant future, printing companies and physical bookstores, along with the print book, will be a thing of the past.


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