As technology moves on and we use disks instead of cassettes and then downloads instead of disks. Now that everything deemed worth buying begins with an "E" or an "I", those in the business of selling the printed word to people, find themselves looking at those who traded in VHS and wiping the grins off their faces. It is the e-book, the e-reader that is staring like a wall of water in a disaster flick, and the question in everyone's mind, is it time to start paddling or move on out of the valley?
In 2009 the sale of e-books held at $96 million, about the same level as audio-books, after the January release of the Kindle and by July 2010 Amazon announced it was selling more e-books than Hardbacks.
Are we seeing a revolution in how people read their books?
There appears to be little doubt that technology is once again changing the norm, just like MP3 players, DVD and Gutenburg's printing press did in their own time. This is a scary prospect on the face of it, particularly for a fresh-faced on-line book retailer - the tangible kind of book, made of paper. So much so that for a bit of April fools day fun I made Adamontise this video;
Researching for this article, I asked a number of people what they thought were the benefits of an e-reader. For one of my colleagues it was nothing more than a gadget he had to have (one which swiftly became overshadowed by the ipad), for many others I asked, it was a gift for the special lady in their life.
It was in fact, my business mentor who summed up why the Kindle has such appeal. He would pride himself on being the wise and powerful business jedi, swooping in from head-office with a whole sack of books he'd had mentioned during a strategy meeting. He is like Yoda, with nicer skin - and an Oxford English degree and it was normal to hear him say things like "....if you read page 24 of 'The machine that changed the world' you'll see how it applies to this situation....".
I saw him a few weeks ago and the backpack of books had been replaced, by a kindle! *shock and horror*
The Kindle seems very useful to those who travel and deal in information and as the price of an e-reader is falling we might see those train station billboards make more than just a passing reference to the eBook version of the latest bestseller.
Market research suggests that buying trends and habits are already starting to change. Studies are suggesting that 75% of those who buy ebooks will also keep buying hard copies. It suggests that this is likely to be because most ebook purchases are casual reads, but when it comes to a non-fiction book, biography or something with large colour pictures, then the customer tends to prefer a bound copy.
So there remains some hopeful place in the universe for local and on-line booksellers, but this leads me to consider those who have a great interest in the market research I quoted above, the big publishing houses.
Obviously, i'm not an expert in the making of the actual books but it speaks to me that the printing and binding of a book is a lot more expensive than the digitising and hosting of an authors work. It seems to me as though publishers will take up a dual role, selling their "light reads" at low cost to the masses via ebook formats and reserve the high quality stuff for premium download and those gorgeous glossy hardbacks, maybe even "special edition" paperbacks.
Of course the last thing to add is that, just like DVD did before it, the ebook looks to have spurred an increase in the overall volume of sales; reminding people that a good story doesn't need the big pricetag and the classy special effects of a film or a computer game. With total sales of books up 22% in 2011, it seems that the train will be filled with people reading after all.
But all the talk thats going on around whether ebooks will replace normal books might prove to be pointless if the ebook world doesn't sort their formats out pretty fast. Of course one can't ignore the "on-demand" age we live in now, where you can download a book in a matter of minutes rather than waiting for it to arrive by post, an angle I completely appreciate when mid-trilogy and desperate for the next installment, but just like VHS against Betamax, HDDVD against blueray, vacuum cleaner against cyclone cleaner and PC against applemac. Diversity of formats can often be a major threat to the new thing in town. Ebooks come in many formats and you can't, as yet, buy one eReader to view them all.
There is a battle raging over which format becomes the standard. My personal vote goes to Adobe PDF format since it's already widely used and gives anybody the ability to publish their work as an ebook. However the only commercial winner there would be Adobe themselves so it seems unlikely. On top of this we might look at the prestige given to having your work published.
While there is nothing wrong with self publication, and there is undoubtedly a large volume of high quality, independent work out there, there is still something to be said for the exclusivity of signing a book deal, and going to press on the first few bound copies. I wouldn't be surprised to hear big authors writing into their book deals that a certain number of hard copies will be printed - along with royalty agreements for downloads as well as traditional book sales.
|James Patterson's "second life" ebook signing, attended by millions of people and one squid|
As with all technological gadgetry, within two years the current generation of eReaders will start to breakdown, become old news or just get forgotten about. It'll be about this time when companies will start releasing the next generation of reader. If there isn't a huge reduction in the number of formats by then, the risk will be that the market becomes too diluted and people will be turned off. For the time being, Amazon seem keen to restrict the Amazon ebook format to the kindle only. This will have to change at some point if they are to retain their clearly desired status as the go-to site for books and ebooks alike. Next in line is Sony, who have already learned their lessons from battling for superiority in the HD media sector, with blu-ray and their UMD portable movie format.
They come to the battle packed with this knowledge and the added incentive of being the ones who can put the same tech into their mobile gaming and smartphone devices.
So, assuming the market for ebooks doesn't become too divided by the formats to compete with the printed word. It looks like peaceful coexistence is possible, in fact a great friendship can be nurtured that will forever keep the love of reading alive.
So what do you think, are ebooks the way forward, or just a flash in the pan? Will you continue to buy actual books or only the format of the greatest convenience? Would you like us to open an ebook section in our own store? Let us know your opinions in the comments below.
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