What If The E-Book Revolution Never Gets Here?

Economics History Publishing Technology

If you've been hanging around here, you know I'm a big advocate of e-books and digital publishing. I don't consider myself an expert in this business, but I read and usually agree with knowledgeable industry observers who advocate for change, radical experimentation and quick adoption of digital technologies, such as Kassia Krozser, Clay Shirky and Richard Nash.

But I'm stepping out onto my own limb with today's digital publishing headline, and I'm surprising even myself, because it's not the kind of thing I'd expect me to say. I don't know if any of my fellow digital progressives will agree with me, but here it is: I'm starting to wonder if the e-book revolution is going to happen at all.

Now, there's no question that an e-book evolution will happen. In twenty years I expect to see people reading on electronic devices half the time, and on print formats the other half. But that barely counts as radical change. Many other experts seem to think the change will come much more quickly. I have to ask them: if this is a revolution, where the hell is the revolution?

It's a fact of history that revolutions move quickly, like mercury. In less time than the digital publishing revolution has taken so far, the Bolsheviks managed to sieze the entire government of Russia in 1917. The French sans culottes of 1789 were so into their revolution that they not only overpowered the Bastille in a single thrust but went on to take the entire building apart, brick by brick, with household and garden tools. I'm just not seeing that kind of intensity about e-book readers.

If a revolution moves this slowly, it may not be a revolution at all.

50 percent electronic, 50 percent hard copy in twenty years: that's my prediction. Certain sectors -- college textbooks, academic research, startup literary journals, breaking news reports -- will become largely electronic. Other sectors like fiction and popular non-fiction might not. Pleasure reading may remain a mostly physical activity because, well, books are objects that give pleasure. And they really aren't inconvenient -- paperbacks aren't, anyway. As long I can slip a well-designed paperback novel into my pocket, e-books don't solve any actual problem that I have.

Many industry observers expect electronic book publishing to follow the velocity of music publishing, which went suddenly digital during the early 2000s, and is probably at least 95%-5% digital today (a big difference from the 50%-50% I'm predicting for e-books in twenty years). It's become the conventional wisdom that e-books will become as popular as MP3s, but MP3s did solve real problems in a way that e-books don't. The sensory/physical equation of music listening is really very different from that of reading. An MP3 player disappears when you're listening to music. But a book does not disappear -- not in the digital or the print realm. You look at it. It matters how big it is, what color it is, whether it feels soft or hard, whether it's fragile, whether it keeps your place. All of these considerations affect your enjoyment when you read a book, in a way that the presence of an MP3 player in your pocket does not. So the comparison to music publishing really does not hold.

The main evidence that there will not be a mass move towards e-books is that it hasn't happened yet. The Kindle's been around for a while, but its success has been extremely modest compared to that of the iPod. I still almost never see one on the street, nor a Nook, nor a person reading for pleasure on a smartphone. Maybe the iPad will sweep the world, but I doubt it. Never before in human history have so many panel discussions taken place about a revolution that will probably never occur.

Of course, the e-book evolution that is taking place remains very interesting. The big news this week is that John Sargent of Macmillan is putting himself into the forefront of the e-book pricing discussion in a very open way with a new Macmillan blog, and this is certainly an honorable and admirable step for this CEO to take. Other commentators still dislike Sargent's approach. We'll be staying on top of the subject and much more here on Litkicks -- even if it is hardly been ten days that shook the world.

30 Responses to "What If The E-Book Revolution Never Gets Here?"

by Gaggy on

Levi--

I couldn't agree more. This "revolution" is, more than anything else, a marketing revolution. Every time a new technology comes out, the talking heads, tech-pundits, and professors with pony-tails trying so hard to seem oh-so-"with it" jump aboard with glee, predicting a brave new world -- sometimes when people seem to be perfectly happy with the old one. Every time I hear someone say that books are dead -- that in the future everybody will be using an e-reader -- I smile pleasantly and nod while in my head the refrain from my grandfather's cuckoo clock plays loops in my head.

And if the resurgence of vinyl records, modest as it may be, shows, people will never lose the nostalgia for the more organic forms of entertainment. Books look nice. They feel good. A bookshelf full of your favorite editions is not only a nice decoration -- it's like having a wall of old friends. Each book evokes the story within as well as the time of your life that you first read it. A kindle can never replicate that.

One thing that seems to be completely discounted in this whole debate is why publishing companies that put out fine, leather-bound volumes like Easton Press seem to be doing such fine. I'm one of those people who will pay $55 and over to have one of my favorite books in a beautifully rendered edition. And if the way those things sell 24/7 on ebay, I'm not the only one. Good luck getting those of us who enjoy finely bound books to trade them in for a hand-held electronic device.

Thanks for this article, Levi. I was beginning to feel very, very alone in my refusal to believe that books will die a quick and tidy death.

I don't know much about revolutions, but I will tell you this: I own a great number of books and I cherish them all. I will always buy books. But three weeks ago I received my first ebook reader ever - a Kindle. My reading has not experienced such a profound change in my entire life. This machine is simply an atom bomb in the world of books. I am reading faster and for much longer periods of time than I ever did before. I'm not exaggerating in the least. It has probably tripled the amount of material I read. I'm not forcing it at all. I just find the thing so appealing and so easy to use that I actually do carry it around and read it in cafes.

I'm not sure why the machine works this way on me, but I suspect it has mainly to do with the presentation of text in less dense blocks. Of course, some printed books do this, but in general the Kindle presents pages that are simply less intimidating to the eye or the unconscious mind which, for me, always rebels slightly at the sight of a massive block of text. So I read much faster.

The key to the ereader experience I think is to do things to your ereader that make it your own. Customize it. Make it soft with a cover if you like that. This is very important. It helps to fill the absence of a nice bendable book with a great cover.

I think the revolution is happening. The Internet revolution has been very powerful but rather slow also. In fact, if I think about it a little, I would have to suspect that we are in the bare infancy of the Internet so far. We are not even at the level of the switchover to sound films yet. This is the 'silent' era of the Internet.

I know the ebook revolution is happening because it's happening for me in my own library.

But be careful. The Nook is an abomination of incompetent design and engineering. Sony's machine is just a piece of electronics. The iPad will not be an ereader. It will be a computer.

Ereaders are very strange things. The have to capture an elusive spot in the psyche of the reader. Very difficult thing to pull off. The e-ink display is simply raving genius if programmed properly (the Nook missed this in a very profound way). It is the modern Gutenberg press. That's a certainty. When it goes into color and full-motion video it will rock the world and all monitors will change almost overnight.

Interesting post, Mr. Asher. I think you should get yourself an ereader and have some fun.

by Subterranean Soul on

Revolutions are just a turning. The clear manifestation of them may be quick in peoples view, but the process is often lengthy.

As for the trend towards e-books being a good thing Iam unconvinced as to its benefits to posterity. LIbraries are losing funding and there is no guarantee that anything saving in the virtaul world will be salvagable without the current system of high yield energy and server towns that support the internet. All the great thinkning that gets expressed on the internet may go the way of the dodo sooner than we thin and we will be left in a literary vacuum, where the first half of the 21st century seems lost to history.

Allessandro has a good point about the "presentation of text in less dense blocks." When I was first designing my web site a few years ago, I tended to cram too much onto a page, both text and pictures, almost as though I didn't realize I had unlimited space on the internet. Then I noticed some of the best web sites are elegantly spare and simple. If people want to see more, they will click on it.

p.s. It was Caryn (firecracker) Thurman Asher who first suggested to me that I might want to make my web site pleasing to the eye. Thanks, FC!

by Steve on

I think this is indicative of an even deeper issue/problem:

The average person doesn't read that much anymore. The numbers of those who read books is, dare I say, dwindling at a rapid pace.

I don't have any figures or science to back that up. It's just a life observation, and it's especially so among the teen and 20-something generations.

As far as print or electronic, I'll read either, but my preference will always be print.

Is it possible you are being impatient? I have to quibble with your history that revolutions happen quickly. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto about 70 years before the Russian revolution. Electricity wires started being strung in the United States in the late 19th century but it wasn't until after World War I that most people were connected. The Internet started at DARPA in the 1960s. And on and on.

Progress is not always direct and linear. There are steps forward and backward. Revolutions build momentum over long periods of time and then appear to happen suddenly when the time is right. I would suggest reading Thomas Kuhn's brilliant and oft-cited work on the subject, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Second, there's a bit of a red herring in your analysis. There could be an ebook revolution (actually I prefer to call it a digital book revolution) and we could still have print books. While there are the very occasional provocateurs stating "the book is dead," I think what most people mean when they talk about the digital book revolution is the availability of any book ever printed anytime, anywhere -- the universal library in your pocket. As you would expect, there are forces opposing any such revolution like the big six print book publishers. But to me, it seems like we're getting closer and closer the past few years.

Finally, I'm not sure we are the generation that will most appreciate -- or even recognize the arrival of -- the digital book revolution. Television was much more significant to me than to my parents. Likewise, I was getting into online services, email and the Internet 15 or 20 years ago while my parents seem to have discovered all this stuff just in the last five years. The digital book revolution may be more apparent to a younger generation.

The e-book revolution has probably already happened and subsided -- like compact discs and digital recording. One knows how quickly history speeds along in these times. (What was it it McLuhan said about us "living several centuries in a decade"...?) I can't say I'm complaining, because most of the contemporary technological 'advancements' are not actually advancements, just fads for dollars' sakes.

Just one other note -- I'm not sure about your digital music analysis. Physically-packaged music still far outsells digitally downloaded music. IFPI reported 27% of sales of recorded music were digital (far ahead of 5% for Hollywood or 4% for newspapers) but still a minority of the business.

Like Levi, I'm a fan. Some folks even consider me an evangelist. But I never was, it just appeared that way relative to the naysayers. Increasingly, the question of what the relative %'s are has come to bore me entirely. I just don't have a horse in that race. To me, it is more interesting to manage the racetrack, allow horses to run, jockeys to ride, punters to watch, bet, drink beer, eat hotdogs. Format only matters really if you're in a business that forgot it was about making writers and readers happy and failed to see that printing, shipping and shelving books was a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Then format is everything, because your chokehold over the means of supply is irrelevant. That panic, because self-serving, got dressed up in larger cultural anxieties, and storms in teacups ensued.

The revolution, to my mind, has been in things like millions and millions of tweets about books and in the 25-fold increase in the number of books published over the last 20 years. The format issue strikes me now as a bit beside the point (though I was breathless as the next person a decade ago!)

Now Subterranean Soul has got me thinking. What if all the servers crash? Does anyone know what the chances are that this could happen? And the implications? No one seems to have thought much about this except for the people with Y2K concerns, and everyone seems to have written them off as fringe alarmists. But I'm curious. Could it happen?

by Levi Asher on

Good responses as usual, folks, thanks.

Aaron, you may have a point about the percentages regarding music sales. My number was not the result of research but is a totally off-the-top-of-my-head estimation based on how I listen to music and how almost everyone I know listens to music. I very rarely buy a CD -- almost all my music is in the form of MP3. I would like to have hard numbers for CD sales vs. MP3 sales, but with services like Rhapsody and Pandora, people are listening to MP3s (and not buying CDs) without buying anything. So we also need to look at total sales volume, not just relative sales, for CDs, to get meaningful answers here. What is certain, though, is that digital music has upended the music business in a way that digital books have not upended the book business yet.

Richard -- thanks for clarifying. If I call you an evangelist for digital publishing, by the way, that is not just in reference to e-books (which are only one component of digital publishing). Your Cursor project is certainly a case of evangelism in practice for digital publishing, isn't it? I say that with all admiration, in case this isn't clear.

Bill,

Yes, the servers could crash, though the Internet is designed to avoid Armageddon. But no one knows the outline of a disaster until it actually happens. The Library of Alexandria could burn again. But it would be unlikely that all the data would be erased. You can have enormous outages and destruction of networks and servers but still have the data survive.

Sure, you can delete books in an instant from Amazon or anywhere else. A book burning in an ebook world would just involve data deletion. It's much more difficult to burn all the copies of a book than to delete all the digital copies. Or is it? It's not easy to delete data. Not really. You can't even erase your own hard drive. You could try for weeks and I bet I could still find all your documents in about 60 minutes.

So, the issue of permanence with ebooks may be less important than the issue of someone mismanaging or manipulating the data or access to it. I think all recording mediums from stone tablets onward have caused consternation and doubt about the ability of humans to keep hold of their thoughts. The printing press made people worry about a few elites hogging control of words and thoughts. They were right to worry. Modern publishers are what those people were worried about. Now those people worry about something else. My answer to all those worries is to jump in like a big stupid child and swim around with the new stuff. I cannot tell you how much fun I am having with my bloody Kindle. I am carrying it around with me like an obsession. I even bought a little light for it. The other night I was reading it alone at a Mexican restaurant in L.A. with my little nerd light sticking up and shining around on my table and two incredible women came over and sat right next to me and spent the next hour trying to figure out what I was reading. See? I've never had a paperback do that for me. Never. Tomorrow night I'm going right back to the Mexican restaurant with my ebooks in tow. You betcha!

by Julia Schrenkler on

You wrote something that I can't quite unwind in my mind and it keeps sticking for me:

"In twenty years I expect to see people reading on electronic devices half the time, and on print formats the other half. But that barely counts as radical change. Many other experts seem to think the change will come much more quickly. I have to ask them: if this is a revolution, where the hell is the revolution?"

I can't help but wonder if people reading on electronic devices half the time might be a generational divide - half (perhaps the younger half) populace reading on these devices, because it is natural to them. As these devices become more affordable and prevalent, books may be too costly to produce and for more "special" texts.

There's also the sense of time... in the distance between the first scrolls and electronic readers, well, my goodness isn't this a whirlwind of a revolution? Is the span of our lifetimes but a blink in the life of bookmaking and print?

Thanks for this piece. I'm really enjoying turning it around in mind.

Levi, I agree with your general premise, and I'm glad that Aaron brought up the correct statistic for digital music sales. (I had recently heard 30% digital music on NPR.) Your points about the aesthetic experience of books are well taken; their three-dimensionality matters a lot more (and the particulars of that -- i.e. the size, weight, deckle edge or not, etc.) to the experience of the art than it does for music, although some people don't care about the physical experience at all. Those will be the people who embrace e-books without a second thought. On the other hand, regarding music, while there is potentially little different between a CD and an MP3, there are a number of factors influencing how recorded music sounds. A lot of people think compression and maximizing loudness, without variation in volume (there's a name for this, but I don't remember it), is killing popular music. T. Bone Burnett is big on this stuff: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_(audio_format)

Music-listening is also largely a passive experience, which surely leads more people to not caring about digital v. CD. I do wonder though whether the 27%/73% split is thrown off by the technology gap between generations. As people become more familiar with technology, will older generations be more ready to embrace digital music? (I assume that they're by and large CD buyers.) Can a similar thing be said for books as well?

As for the revolution stuff, the previous poster is right to bring up Marx regarding the Russian Revolution. But even looking closer to 1917, there was a Russian revolution in 1905 as well. Still 12 years before Nicholas II abdicated. I think the lesson is that, especially in our (ostensibly) hyper-aware times, with our tendency to look to history for immediate parallels, is that revolutions or great paradigm shifts can happen in fits and starts. It's only decades or centuries later, with a sort of myopic hindsight, that we often reduce these transformations to singular events (i.e. the American Revolution began with the Declaration of Independence). Technology may be moving quickly these days, but it may be prudent, or simply easier, to take a longer, more skeptical view of things.

by Eamon on

Levi,
I have noticed people reading ebooks on the train a bit more but still see a lot more tattered paperbacks stuffed into old "Strand Bookstore" bags and such.

Not that money is a big problem for most people in New York, but I do think there are a lot of people that are cutting back on spending and with paperbacks readily available and at a very reasonable price, why spend $259 dollars on a kindle? I mean, it's just not necessary.

There is also an aura about books, like what Alessandro Cima said about owning them, I would argue that reading books and the literary or intellectual feeling that comes from reading a good book is somehow associated with printed books. Ebooks seem more manufactured.

Maybe I could see a lot more non-fiction titles selling well on ebooks with the literary readers staying behind... at least for a couple more generations.

Eamon

What Richard said. The major shift, misidentified as revolution, has been centered around literary and bookish people making their labors, interests, and passions known through digital means, using limitless space to create great things. In a way, what we've seen in the past ten years is the rise of commentary and annotation more than any cataclysmic shift in the book's form. I'm fascinated by new ways of reading and taking in content, and find more interest and potential for change in The Golden Notebook project or what Salman Rushdie recently did by offering his manuscript in digital form, to be manipulated by a reader. But the e-book crowd is driven less by this genuine enthusiasm and seem more interested in the goal of making a buck from some unspecified reserve. That usual formula: (1) E-books (2) ??? (3) Profit! Such a silly and pedestrian exercise, but you have to give these folks credit for persistence.

In fact, I wouldn't even call any of these developments revolutionary. It's simply what happens when a new medium runs against an old one, similar to how films and television changed when both attracted varying levels of attention in the 1950s (think about how cinema adopted anamorphic formats and spectacle to compete against television, and it took another thirty years for VHS and later DVD to cause additional ruptures). The Kindle has failed to make the same dent as television once did -- in large part because regular people cannot afford it and there's nobody broadcasting free new content once a regular person has laid down money for an e-reader. Offer something that is an affordable alternative, like television did, and then there might be traction. I suspect something will come that involves text eventually, but the early signs seem to suggest that it won't be happening for a long while. When the New York Times collapses or stops printing in paper form, then there will be signs that a shift is in sight. But not now. Not yet. It will probably be something that we never anticipated.

by Subterranean Soul on

The chances of servers crashing in the next year? Probably pretty slim. But within the next ten, twenty, fifty years. Now there's a possibility. And it will be made all the more dangerous to the histroy of our times as most people will probably have run with the new technology to such a degree that other formats will be less and less popular. Thinking of posterity only, I see this as a very gangerous situation. And it's not just some Y2K bunch of conspiracy theorists. It's the Peak Oil proponents, radical economists, AND lunatic conspiracists that are talking about the end of abundant energy at our finger tips which is the one and only thing that makes the use of Ebooks possible in such a widespread way. But when the well runs dry, and there ain't no grease to grease the machine that digs the hole that keeps the minerals that get fed into another greasless machine to be churned and burned into the stuff that makes computers so small and awesome, we will be sorry there ain't no record of the way we destroyed our records by falling for the oldest trick in the e-book. Putting all our e-eggs in one e-basket.

by Subterranean Soul on

I think that the average person throughout all of history has not read much at all, except for a small period from the late 1800's to the present where literacy has increased exponentially. We live in the most literate age ever known to our kind.

It's just like people saying the kids these days are just not like they used to be. But some kids have always been up to no good. There has always been crime, and kids having sex (with other kids and with adults) and they are growing up and saying "the kids these days...it's just not like the good old days."

by Levi Asher on

So much to say in response -- I think there will have to be a follow-up post, or a few.

Yes, I will definitely try to get real numbers on the effect of digital music on music sales and post them here. That 27% / 73% split just doesn't make sense to me based on what I observe -- and I observe my generation, my kids' generation and my parents' generation. I don't see a lot of CDs around. Will look for meaningful numbers on this.

Alessandro, that is cool about your Kindle!

And, all this talk about revolution ... well, really the meaningful comparison here, despite my fun references to Russia and France, is to digital music. The MP3 thing happened a whole lot faster than the e-book thing -- it was truly a phenomenon. To me, the fact that e-books haven't succeeded at the same rate suggests that a large percentage of consumers are rejecting the format based on currently available technology.

Levi, I think you are right about the ebook success rate indicating that lots of consumers are rejecting the format based on current technology. It took me 2 1/2 years to finally decide that I was ready to jump in with an e-reader. I have been very hesitant and suspicious. But I think that for my own personal requirements it has paid off very handsomely.

And, yes, it is very cool what one can accomplish with a Kindle at a Mexican outdoor cafe. The experiment continues...

by Lonnie Veal on

I'm writing this as I was searching for something new to read online (Amazon) and came across a new sci-fi book that looked interesting.

It was "Beneath" by Jeremy Robinson.

Then I noticed that Amazon only offered it as an e-book for Kindle download.

I blinked and switched over to Barnes & Noble and-- No-joy. That author's past PAPER books were listed, but not this latest one. Nor was it available in Nook format.

So this split my book buying pastime now into THREE different venues.

One-- Actually go to a Brick & Mortar to look at what's on the shelf because for some authors, particularly new ones, if you don't type the name of the book or the name of the author in the search-- you won't FIND THEM. Plus Both Amazon & B&N have gotten rid of the straightforward "NEWLY PUBLISHED" listing and replaced it with "New & Notable" which is NOT the same thing. "NEWLY PUBLISHED" means EXACTLY that: EVERYTHING that was NEWLY PUBLISHED the Month. "New & Notable" can really mean just New & POPULAR. What you see could just be a list generated by Publisher Sponsorship and Reader Popularity Ratings. For this reason, I have found new books sitting on the Brick & Mortar shelf that I would NEVER have seen if I searched online 'New & Notable'.

Two- Other Online book sources (and Bookstores other than Amazon & B&N) are dwindling or being subsumed into the Amazon Market.

Three-- Now with the advent of the Kindle, we ae now seeing the true advent of Paperless Publications. . .

But not all of us have Kindle's. Or Nooks.

And if another Author only publishes a eBook on the B&N Nook, and that novel is NOT available in Kindle Form. . .will I have to have a Nook, too?

As a Reader, I have nothing against e-books. But aside from the gadget-knack there IS the Dollars & Sense issue. May I soon be forced to spend $300 just to be able to read something I could just get for $7 ? This goes against against my grain. Nevermind the possibility that if the Kindle or Nook malfunctions, I will have to pony up $300 AGAIN to have the pleasure of just enjoying a novel late at night?

by mtmynd on

Re: "The MP3 thing happened a whole lot faster than the e-book thing"

MP3 depends on the computer which is ubiquitous in our culture. The e-book requires a connection to Amazon or two other sources which explains the speed of MP3 acceptance, would it not?

The current economic slowdown certainly has an impact on the sales of e-books. But it may have a positive future because of price reductions necessary to make sales, add in the idea of purchasing not only books at a more reasonable prices, but the instant national newspaper access and the magazine's now available on the e-book. Comic books and adult oriented magazines are not far behind to get in on the e-book 'revolution.' Factor in all these media sources that haven't jumped on the bandwagon, but will once the Kindle's, etc. continue selling, and the general readership will see a reduction in costs using these machines. It will happen. There shouldn't be any doubt.

Ed: "The Kindle has failed to make the same dent as television once did"

Ed, broadcast TV started in the US in the 1920s albeit on an experimental basis. My parents and grandparents all saw TV in the 1930s, again in experimental format. There was regularly scheduled TV in New York just before World War II. My grandfathers were both "early adopters," buying TVs around 1948. As a kid, I remember that not everyone had a TV and that you could get the same shows on TV -- soaps, comedy and variety shows -- on the big network radio shows as TV was still on in the early to mid-1950s. Not everyone I knew as a kid had a TV. I can remember being pretty old before I saw color TV or the first live satellite broadcast, maybe not till 1959-1962 or thereabouts.

So I think it's far too early to say that "The Kindle has failed to make the same dent as television once did." Also, it conflates one brand of a medium with the entire medium. It's comparable to discussing the manufacturer Sylvania or the Dumont network (Amazon both sells the device and provides content).

Meanwhile, some of us are having a lot of fun with the Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url?_encoding=UTF8&searc...

As a hobbyist, I wish Amazon would let me upload stuff for free, but they insist on 99 cents as a minimum price (author's royalty=35 cents). For those of us who write for fun and for free, it's a fun way to disseminate things; the barrier to entry has no cost whatsoever.

by vlabla on

I remember some author's musings about the sound of typewriter against impersonal PCs in 1980s.

I think the whole discussion is about how people accept change. Some people have difficulty to notice what is progressive in novelty and stubbornly stick with things they are used to. I think there are a lot of benefits in ereaders adoption - it is just a question of time when formats, features and other issues will be crystallised into accepted ereader standard.

I don't disregard 'old-fashioned' book readers but they will become minority in a near future.

Evolution or revolution - I think it is eReadolution... and no, I don't have ereader yet...

by Libby Cone on

As an old fart, I appreciate the ability to increase font size on my Kindle. I love books. I own zillions of books, but since I can't fit a razor blade into my bookcase, I'm grateful for the Kindle. It makes me less hesitant to buy a new book. I changed my New Yorker subscription to Kindle, and no longer have to pull old issues out of the sofa cushions. I have fallen into the pleasant habit of reading the New Yorker book reviews and ordering up the books that interest me, all without leaving the sofa. I have also started reading and buying more poetry.
Putting on my writer's hat, Kindle is a huge breakthrough. It is an excellent platform for beta-testing and independently publishing books. It is how I launched my first book, which eventually was bought by a British publisher (ironically, after being dead-set against digital, they have now released a Kindle edition).

by Venkat on

Look, I was a big skeptic too. Until our lives changed last year with the arrival of preemie twins. Now, eBooks is the only thing that works for me. Funnily enough, I have more time to read now, given that I am awake at all kinds of unearthly hours cradling a baby that's refluxing and needs to be held upright. I cannot turn the lights on ( at least not full brightness ). Throw in the fact that u can never predict which room I will end up in, having my iPhone handy is a boon. Yes, I use the kindle app for iPhones, and that's perfectly fine for reading 20-25 min at a time (which is all I get if I am lucky).

Ok, so this is very specific to me. But I constantly run into eBook naysayers who scoff and tell me why they don't understand how anybody could use it and prattle on about the romance of print on paper. Then I tell my tale and they become quiet.

by Luke on

I'm in my fifties, and I've owned thousands of physical books in my lifetime and still own a great many, but I've been reading e-books for years--first on a Handspring Visor PDA, then on various Palm devices, and now on the iPod touch--which I bought instead of a Kindle because it was less expensive and could do quite a few more things. (No, reading on the small screen is no problem for me, and I love being able to have a selection of reading material with me in a pocket.)

My next e-reader will probably be the iPad. I love being able to order a book and be reading it in under a minute without leaving my house; I've moved toward minimalist living and love having fewer things to move around, dust, etc. I'm so over the romance of the physical book.

It's not a perfect e-reader world yet--quite a few books aren't available in electronic format, which is frustrating for those who read other-than-mainstream literature. But I think it's still very early in the game, and it's only going to get better. E-books are my preferred reading format, and I don't expect that to change.

by ReMaines on

I'm increasingly of the view that the MP3 revolution is the wrong analogy. Paperbacks--yes, plain old paperbacks--are a better model to consider. Because what is an ebook but another format in which to deliver a book? If we in publishing are smart, we simply add it to the options available when we consider the best way to deliver a particular book's content. Just as we decide whether it makes sense as a hardcover or paperback original, in what dimensions, color or not, etc., we can consider whether it makes sense as a digital original or a digital "reprint."

It's important in doing that to take into account both the strengths and limitations of the ebook format as it exists now (or at whatever point we're making this determination about a book). Right now a book that demands full-color and a precise relationship between text and images is obviously ill-served by the ebook format. But for a book that's straight text, the other considerations may include the fact that some readers worry that devices and formats may change and they might have to "upgrade" if they want to continue to read the book they buy today years from now--the book that will have a long life shouldn't, therefore, be ebook only. However, a book that's time-limited (say, for example, this year's horoscope guide)--sure, ebook only might be viable for that book (or if you do both print and digital, delaying the ebook makes no sense).

"Evolution" is a good word. Publishers who consider digital editions in terms of what makes sense for the book and the reader will be more fit (in the Darwinian sense) than those who just rush without consideration to jump on the ebook bandwagon.

It's the end of 2010 and I think the answer is definitively in: it's here. No?

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