The Future of Books, Bookstores & Publishers: E-Books vs. Hard-Copy Books

by Mk

in eReaders,Fiction,Kindle,Nook,Other News

Looking for a Good Book

This series of articles looks at how e-readers and e-books are reshaping the publishing and bookselling industry. If you missed the first article on the history of e-readers, click here.

Update on E-Readers: Since the e-reader industry is very dynamic, I wanted to update you on some possibly important developments that were announced after last week’s article.

1) Amazon officially announced plans to introduce a ~9” screen tablet computer before October, 2011. It will use Google’s Android operating system. I don’t know yet whether that means more e-book formats will be available on the tablet. That they are introducing a tablet isn’t news but the timing is.
2) Amazon dropped the price of its Kindle 3g with special offers to $139, thanks to advertising sponsorship from AT&T.
3) Sony will introduce a new upgraded e-reader as early as August, 2011.
4) Sony officially announced it will introduce a tablet computer later this year.
5) Google has gotten into the e-reader business as of Sunday July 17, 2011. iRiver Global’s Story HD is the first e-reader to be integrated with Google e-books. Story HD is available at Target for $139.99. It comes with WiFi and is being touted as the highest resolution e-ink e-reader available, with 63% more pixels than a SVGa e-ink screen. It comes with Adobe Reader Mobile and appears to be compatible with a wide range of e-book formats, making downloading from a variety of online book resources easier.

Please note: I had planned to include environmental impact in today’s article but realized it needs to be handled separately. That article will appear on August 22, 2011.

How are e-books affecting hard-copy books and should we be concerned about that?

A Little Book Evolution History: Throughout time, books have evolved in many ways. At one time, all books were handwritten manuscripts that only the wealthiest could own. The printing press made books available to a wider audience but they still were largely only affordable by the well to-do. With Andrew Carnegie’s goal to build public libraries in every small town in America, books became more accessible to everyone in the U.S. Between 1883 and 1929, over 2,500 libraries were built in the U.S. and other countries, thanks to Mr. Carnegie. Over time hardcover books became more affordable for the middle and upper classes; however, for some they were still a luxury. Paperback books were created by a German publisher in 1931. They were introduced to the U.S. in 1939 as pocket books. Some say the name came from their size being perfect to fit in a woman’s skirt pocket. In the 1950’s, paperbacks were synonymous with pulp fiction. Paperbacks now come in two versions, trade and mass market. They have always been much more affordable than hardcover books. Audio books have been available since the 1930’s but their popularity only began to gain momentum in the 1980’s. Although e-books were introduced in the 1970’s for limited industrial/business purposes, e-books as we know them became more accessible in the late 1990’s when the first e-readers were sold. It wasn’t until 2005-2007 that e-readers became more widely publicized and e-books began to gain acceptance by the public.

Hard-Copy Books vs. e-Books:
There have been and continue to be many publishing industry articles about how e-books affect hard-copy book sales. Everyone has an opinion and, at this early stage, you might think opinions are all that are available. There is, however, quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that we are seeing a monumental shift away from hard-copy books to e-books. Amazon released data indicating its e-book sales outstripped its hard-copy book sales by a large margin as early as July 2010. That percentage has increased since then. Publishers Weekly stated that in Q1 2011, e-book sales were up 159.8%, with all print declining 23.4% in the same period.

What everyone who’s chattering about this book evolution seems to agree about is that we aren’t seeing the death of hard-copy books, we’re just seeing a shift in how people read. Everyone agrees hard-copy books will still be around. There is speculation that they may become more expensive as fewer hard copies are printed, which could potentially put them back into the hands of collectors only; however, even that is just speculation at this point.
The thing I think is important is that people are reading as much or more than ever. What I noticed after I got my Kindle in 2009 was that I read far more than I did before I got it, and I was a voracious reader before then. Everyone I’ve talked to who has an e-reader has said the same thing, and it has surprised all of us. Anecdotally that means more e-books are being purchased now than books were purchased when the only option was a hard-copy or an audio book. In addition, we have more books by indie authors readily available, which will be addressed in a future article.

Everyone in the book industry is watching the fast moving e-book and e-reader developments like a hawk. The problem we all have is one of perspective. Because we’re in the middle of what feels like a whirlwind of change, we can’t see it from a distance. Because we don’t have a crystal ball, we can’t predict how the future of books will look. This phenomenon won’t really be fully understood until we can look back on it as a whole event.

The bottom line? The book is not dead but it is evolving yet again and it’s exciting to be in the middle of that evolution!

Future Articles Planned for This Series:

Monday, July 25:
The Effect on Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

Monday, August 1:
The Effect on Libraries

Monday, August 8:
The Effect on Publishers

Monday, August 15:
The Effect on Authors

Monday, August 22:
The Effect on the Environment

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