About a year ago ebooks outsold paperback books for the first time. That achievement sent a shudder through the publishing—and book selling—industry. But this news isn’t just sending a shudder, it’s sending a fit of the screaming mimis through the industry:
eBooks are outselling hardcover books—It’s the end of books as you knew them: E-books out-sell hardbound for the 1st time | ZDNet.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Tectonic Shift In Publishing
The implications of this shift are huge. From the publisher’s side of things (and being an author, I know this pretty well), it means they can get better margins on books. You don’t have to ship pallets and pallets of books to stores. You don’t have to buy paper and ink. The process from writing to editing to proofing to publishing can happen a lot faster.
As an author I think this is great, because if my publisher can save money producing my books, they can afford to pay me more to write them.
For small publishers and self publishers the rise of eReaders makes it easier to get niche books out into the world and into people’s hands. There are a lot of great stories to be told and often the only barrier to publishing them is finding the money to do it.
Dark Side of eBooks
But there is a darker side to this news.
While I love reading and buying books electronically, I also love books. I have hundreds of them (used to be thousands, but I had to do a cull). I bought the Steve Jobs biography as soon as I could in iBooks, and then bought the hardcover to “have”. What will happen to buying books? What will happen to browsing through a bookstore? Will we just have rows and rows of screens with sample chapters to look at? Bookstores could be a lot smaller then, but maybe that isn’t a good thing.
Then there are libraries. Even now libraries are grappling with digital editions. It’s a double edged sword because digital editions don’t take up more space, but you have to have a license for a digital edition and patrons need a device to read the books on.
On The Bright Side
As much as we see that digital replacing paper as something we mourn passing into history, I don’t really miss LPs, tape cassettes, or even CDs for music. I think we’ll continue to have books and paper for a long, long time, but those will be treasured volumes of special significance. For our personal “library” we’ll store them electronically. Right now it’s pretty messy with DRM and being able to make sure you always “have” a book, but those things will work out in time. However I just look at what I have on my iPad with iBooks, Kobo books, and Marvel Comics I have a pretty impressive library of books and reference materials at my fingertips. I certainly read a lot more than I did before (and I read a lot pre-iPad) and I consume more different kinds of media than I did before.
And let’s not forget the positive effect this will certainly have on publishing. When I can write a book and have it go straight to my publisher and then to you without ever needing to be printed that’s a great thing. Even now you can pick up iBooks Author from the Mac App Store and publish your own book for iPad owners for nothing. And while it won’t cost you anything to publish the book into the iBookstore, you can still make money from that book.
Folks this is the power of digital publishing.
So, yes, I will mourn fewer and fewer hardcover books being printed. I will miss wandering through a bookstore. I won’t however ever have to miss reading books.
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