David Kubicek

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The Future of eBooks and Publishing: Things Change


This is in response to a blog post in which Laura L. Cooper suggested that the popularity of  ebooks will plateau within a few years and that ebooks will never replace physical books.

I’ve already seen a response or two to that post, one person comparing ebooks to automobiles; no one ever thought cars would catch on, either. I agree with that assessment.

One certain thing is change. Technology will change, culture with change, people will change.

I started writing on a Remington portable typewriter. When I was in high school, the school had a computer. A computer. It was kept in a room in the office. We were taken down in groups to look at it.

At that time, who could have predicted how computers would permeate our society?

Who could have predicted that automobiles would replace horses and carriages?

Who could have predicted that big-box stores would replace neighborhood groceries, dry goods, and hardware stores?

Ebooks are not a passing fad. They have many advantages over physical books:

  • They require little storage space.
  • They are relatively inexpensive. I need to give a shout-out here to indie authors, who usually price their books below $5, sometimes way below $5 – which is a fair price considering there is very little overhead in publishing a digital book.
  • When you travel, you can take your entire library along in a space the size of a trade paperback book.
  • Instant gratification – you can browse online and download immediately, no trip to the bookstore, no ordering online and waiting a week for your book to be delivered.

People today (and this will be even more true in the future) are pressed for time, they are mobile, they like to do all their shopping in one place, and they are impatient – they want something, and they want it now. This is why the big-box stores like Wal-Mart and ShopKo have become such fixtures in our society. This is why computer technology is an integral part of our lives. This is why we drive cars instead hitching horses to buggies.

For now, many people prefer physical books; printed books still  account for 80% or more of book sales. At one time you could make a similar statement about the horse and buggy in relation to that upstart, the automobile.

Today, physical books are the choice of the majority of readers. But let’s revisit this question in 100 years.

Ebooks are not a passing fad. The popularity of ebooks will not plateau.

Ebooks represent the next stage in the evolution of publishing.

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5 thoughts on “The Future of eBooks and Publishing: Things Change

  1. Very insightful post, David. One big factor no one is mentioning right now, but I think will become increasingly important, is the number of trees that would be saved by going to e-books. Like most of the twentieth centruy, our technology was always very wasteful. We knocked down 10 acres of trees to print 50,000 books, so the bookstores could return half of them for credit and maybe recycle the paper.

    Jim

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    • You make an excellent point, Jim. Preserving our natural resources is a good reason to go digital. This would include not only the trees, but also the ink, the metal used to make the plates and type, and the energy needed to run the presses.

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  2. Laura L. Cooper on said:

    I believe that preserving the environment is a tremendous benefit of ebook technology. No one is suggesting that ebooks are a fad. But unless you believe that ebooks will enjoy an unlimited, exponential growth curve…sales will someday level off. Will that come at 50%, 75%, or 99% of total book sales? I don’t know; that wasn’t my prediction.

    We can reference the auto industry or even food sales. Buyers have their limits. Readers will only buy so many books per year even if they can carry an unlimited library in their pocket. Maybe something will change how we measure book sales. Perhaps we won’t buy individual books but rather purchase subscriptions to authors or publishing groups. Like you said, we’ll see in 100 years…or likely much sooner.

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  3. I don’t see ebooks going anywhere either. I expect them to surpass paperbacks at some point, but paperbacks, like horses and the radio, will still be around. The ebooks will just be more popular. At least that is my prediction. 😀

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    • It’s true that horses and radio are still around, but their functions have changed. Radio was a total entertainment venue – comedy, drama, music, etc. – until television took over those functions, forcing radio into primarily music and talk. And horses, except in certain isolated regions, aren’t used for transportation anymore. The younger generation will drive this change from paper to digital – the young people who have embraced video games, who download apps to their cell phones, and who text on their phones more often than they talk.

      I think it’s only a matter of time before digital books outsell paper books. In my post I suggested 100 years, but I think that’s a conservative estimate. If I were a betting man, I’d say 50 years. The automobile did it in less time than that, and society is changing more quickly today than it was in the early twentieth century.

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