Before all of the hype of Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook there were unwieldy e-book readers that were too much like a small computer to really be compact and manageable like a book. You needed to hook up the device to a computer to get downloads and very few titles were available that included bestsellers. Examples of this include the Rocket Reader in which you had to hold the device just right in the light to see the black and grey screen perfectly. Many titles available were just public domain works.
Jump forward ten years and the book publishing industry is in the midst of a revolution. Now you can take dozens if not hundreds of books with you anywhere and read them at any time. The new Amazon Kindle lets you download books in as fast as 60 seconds.
E-books are the wave of the future and according to MediaPost, sales of e-books will top nine billion dollars in 2013. Amazon led the way with the Kindle and wireless 3G services to download books in very little time. Easy to read and compact, the Kindle spurred an industry that will completely revamp the way books are sold.
Textbooks also may go the way of the e-book. Book Business magazine reports that sales of textbooks in e-book format will increase 50 percent each year with 11 percent of all textbooks being in that format by 2013.
Book sales overall in 2009 were down slightly. The Association of American Publishers stated that sales were $23.9 billion. Considering that e-book sales are expected to rise to nearly half of that figure in 2013 to say that the book industry has changed irrevocably is an understatement.
Booksellers and authors alike will have to change with industry. Considering that first-run copies of hardbacks can sell for as much as thirty dollars or more versus just ten dollars in an e-book format is a huge discrepancy in income.
However the costs of publishing a book in paper form versus just needing to upgrade a computer system should cancel out any potential loss of income. It’s far easier to download something electronically than print it out, ship it, sell it, or eventually return unsold copies to the publisher.
Authors now have more amazing ways to get their books published and sold. Before the industry went digital the onus was on the publisher to sell the books. Anything unsold was returned by the bookstore for a full refund according to a report in Time magazine.
Authors can self-publish books in many ways and get creative. Have your own website and verify how many hits you get and sell advertising based upon those numbers. You could, theoretically, make your own downloadable copy of a novel or book available to Amazon to be sold on the Kindle. All Amazon needs is the small amount of memory to store it. The sales are now up to the authors as opposed to the publishers.
In as much as Gutenberg’s printing press and then the Industrial Revolution completely changed literacy and knowledge forever in human thinking, now the e-books of the Digital Age are doing the same thing. The changes are even more rapid than before since information and technology travel even faster than they did two hundred years ago.
The key for book publishers and authors is to ride the wave. Those that struggle against the coming tsunami of e-books will drown in an industry that needs to reintroduce people to good reading. There still can be money to be made in books it is just that the industry on all levels will need to shift their consciousness to make money. Authors will have to sell more and publishers will have to start ditching the paper and go for the digital.
One final comment on the coming e-book boom is that people like me who want to see more trees on our planet will love the fact that less paper will be used to publish books as we move more and more towards a paperless society. The book industry won’t go away it will just evolve. Imagine a public library allowing you to check out an e-book to take home for two weeks instead of a pile of books to carry out the door. Backpacks suddenly get lighter for both high school and college as schools save money from needing to buy tons of used textbooks. That’s a future I can get on board for.
MediaPost, Book Business magazine, Time, and the Association of American Publishers all contributed information for this article.