e-books are overtaking printed books

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Australia Radio National recently did a radio program on e-books at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Of the 4 panelists, only one actually owned an electronic book reader. A number of benefits were cited of e-books, including convenience of purchase, lower book prices (especially compared to the prices of printed books in Australia), and better access from rural locations. However, the overall the impression was that printed books and traditional bookstores will continue to exist for some time. One of the panelists stated that printed books will still constitute 70% of the market within a decade. Another panelist felt that bookshops will continue to exist because they are a nexus of social activity.

Let me be the first to say I love bookshops and have a large library of printed books. That said, these people clearly did not get the memo from Jeff Bezos that the number of e-books sold by Amazon has already overtaken hardcover books and it will overtake paperbacks by next year. The recent launch of the ipad, multimedia e-books, and this week’s launch of the third generation Kindle (only US$139) are going to accelerate the process. Having used both e-books and printed books for some time, all I can say is that many of the complaints people mentioned in the podcast have been addressed, or are being addressed, in the newer ebook readers. Change is happening faster than many people think. This week alone I bought 7 books on Kindle for a course I’m teaching, and I have no complaints.

One way to address the gap between perception and reality is to allow more customers to get their hands on an e-book reader, such as at retail outlets and other public places. From personal experience, people who complain about e-books are often surprised by how usable they are after I’ve put an actual device into their hands for the first time. I’ve also noticed that at a lot of places where e-book readers are sold, they are displayed all wrapped up or inside glass cabinets, rather than in a way that invites people to experience them. This is is something e-book retailers such as Amazon and B&N should address, maybe taking a page out of Apple‘s book to make the shopping experience much more hands-on.

5 Responses to "e-books are overtaking printed books"
  1. My main problem with e-books is that once you’ve read them you can’t loan them out or pass them on.

  2. eBooks are simply different.  For paper books, you can’t have multiple copies with you on different devices, and with no additional weight overhead, neither can you dynamically change the font size, or do quick searches.  For ebooks, you can’t loan out or gift (as second hand) your ebook.  I think there will remain a time and place for both types of books.  But ebooks are here to stay.  I just wish there were only one ebook standard, and that device interoperability is possible.  Right now, some readers read ePub, some don’t.  Some do Adobe DRM-ed PDFs, some don’t.  Bah.

  3. Look at how Kodak and Polaroid were blindsided by the introduction of digital cameras. People can seriously underestimate the impact of technological change, especially if they have a pecuniary interest in the status quo.

    I had never bought an ebook before April 2010. Since then most of my book purchases have been in electronic form. Just like my CD collection became frozen in time around A.D. 2000, so will the timeline of ‘cultural fossils’ on my bookshelf suddenly end in 2010.

    My prediction: In 5 years time an ebook reader will cost about $40, and around 80% of book sales will be in digital form.

  4. The local Borders store has their ebook readers (the Kobo Ereader) out on a display for customers to try out.

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