There's a popular misconception that books in general are in terminal decline, that this is the reason the WT organisation has turned to tablets instead of print, and this in turn has created a financial crisis for the organisation which traditionally relied upon publishing books for income.
This is wrong on a number of levels. Firstly physical books are not in terminal decline, they are as popular as ever with consumers. Secondly the reason the WT in particular is replacing physical books with downloads is because they can't make a profit from books any more. The reason the WT can no longer make a profit from publishing books and magazines is because they were forced by law in the US in 1990 to stop charging a cover price for their literature or else be liable to pay tax.
The WT's loss of income from book publishing therefore pre-dates the advent of ebooks and tablets by a number of years. The WT was already making a loss from the books it was publishing by the mid-1990s hence the attempts to cut costs by producing cheap paperbacks, cutting back on calendars, magazines, large volumes and so on. From a position of making a very healthy profit from book publishing for most of its 100 plus year history, the WT started to make losses from the 1990s onwards.
The organisation had significant financial reserves which enabled it to withstand lower income for a considerable period following 1990. Plus of course they expected Armageddon by the end of the 1914 generation, don't forget. Instead the financial crash of 2008 arrived and the reduced income of the organisation started to bite hard. Other losses from investments during the crash compounded the problem. Not to mention abuse lawsuits, aging bethelites and health and care costs and whatever else. So they decided to sell some of their considerable property assets to increase cash flow. This helped, but only for a few years, and it dawned of the WT leaders that eventually they would need to address the situation, as Lett described it, where "we have more money going out than we have coming in brothers!" This is when mass bethel layoffs began and branches started to close. The situation had rapidly worsened and taken the GB unawares. The response was somewhat chaotic as branches were closed abruptly and other cutbacks in haphazard fashion.
It is also the period (roughly 2014, or so?) when the WT did an abrupt 180 degree turn, from somewhat discouraging use of tablets in the meetings, to strongly encouraging their use by all the brothers. Virtually overnight the situation changed from tablets being the preserve of a few brothers who were derided as "show off" technophiles, and materialistic, to the situation where every pensioner publisher and pious pioneer in the KH was encouraged to purchase a tablet in order to avail themselves of the spiritual provisions.
Therefore the WT's move into tablets and away from printed material was not a result of broader societal trends. It was rather necessitated by their lack of profit from book publishing (since the 1990s) being compounded by their cash flow problems following the 2008 financial crash. Publishing printed material of any quality or quantity is simply a luxury the WT can no longer afford. The arrival of tablets and ebook technology has to some extent saved the WT from a sticky financial situation. However their financial problems appear to run deep and this measure, combined with branch closures and bethel layoffs, may only afford a reprieve rather than a reversal of fortunes.
Maybe some people are sceptical of my claim that books in general remain as popular as ever and that tablets and ebooks are not replacing books among non-JWs. Indeed the idea that books are in terminal decline remains a popular misconception even among the general public. Why do people think this? Some reasons include:
1. The replacement of physical books by tablets and ebooks has been confidently predicted for around a decade now.
2. Bookshops have closed down everywhere and there are hardly any left so this must show that books are dying out.
3. Newspapers are drastically declining in popularity and it's assumed books are the same.
4. New technology has rendered DVDs and CDs largely obsolete and it's assumed the same applies to books.
This is wrong because:
1. While it's long been predicted that ebooks will replace physical books, recent figures show ebook sales are down and physical books are up. In terms of value, physical book sales have never been higher. Ebooks now look more like a fad and/or a niche interest than a wholesale disruption of the book market.
2. It's true that many bookshops have closed down. The reason for this is that people are buying their books online not at local bookshops. And they are buying tons of books online.
3. The reason newspapers are in decline is because the Internet provides instantaneous news these days. This is a challenge for newspapers in particular, not for printed media in general. Most (or all) books and magazines contain information with a much longer shelf life than a daily newspaper. So they are simply not as vulnerable to decline in the face of the Internet as newspapers are. It's the immediacy of news that makes newspapers vulnerable to online alternatives rather than the printed page being out of date.
4. It's true that DVDs and CDs and various other media technology have become pretty obsolete. But there are advantages to the physical book that still make it an attractive option compared with alternatives, and in ways that simply don't apply to other forms of media. Plus it's worth remembering that books have been around 2000 years whereas DVDs and what else have only been around a few decades at most.
Book sales around the globe are booming.
The WT is getting out of publishing because they can't charge for their literature any more, and because they are in financial difficulty, not because books and magazines in general are becoming obsolete.
None of the above is to claim, incidentally, that books won't eventually become obsolete or be replaced by alternatives. That may happen! Who can predict the future? The point is that it hasn't happened yet, not by a long stretch. And it's wrong to use the "decline of books" as a false premise to explain the WT's current rapid exit from book and magazine publishing. The real reason for this move is that book and magazine publishing isn't making the WT a profit any longer, and in straightened financial circumstances printing books and magazines of quality and quantity has become a luxury the WT simply cannot afford.