Thursday 24 September 2015

Quick Hit: eBooks Show No Sign of Replacing Print Books

In case you missed it, the New York Times published an interesting article yesterday on how the sales of eBooks has begun to dip, whereas print sales remain steady. Bad news for all those who prognosticated the "Death of the Book" once eBooks and eReaders were developed. 

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1 comment:

Inkling said...

This doesn't surprise me. Here's how my book consumption habits have changed in recent years. And, yes, I am very frugal wiht my spending. I have to be.


Then: Public domain ebooks read on an iPod touch and a Kindle 3 late at night.
Now: Public domain audiobooks listened to on an iPhone while walking or engaged in other activities.

Then: A wide selection of books from a big city library requested via intra-library loan. Then I moved.
Now: A limited selection of books in a small town library.

Then: Print books requested in a big city library system.
Now: Buying those same print books used, waiting to get a good price.

I've purchased a few ebooks during that time but most left me unsatisfied. I didn't feel they were real. I didn't feel I actually owned them, since they were attached to a particular device or app. And perhaps most important of all, most looked bland or even ugly,


Perhaps the best analogy is that in today's market, ebooks are like fast food. They're quick and easily consumed but leave no desire to return to them. They are throw-aways for a slice of people who want throw-away reading. That's definitely romance novels and may include a few other genres. But it isn't the entire book market. People have tried them for other types of books and come away unsatisfied.

Ebooks could become an effective way to market all types of books, but their formatting capabilities would have to improve greatly and they'd have to offer benefits print books can't offer. And no, by that I do not mean audio and video. I mean a host of features that'd be clumsy in print books but handy with digital ones. Ebooks also need to become real. They need a library that's not tied to a vendor and they need to work across multiple ereaders.

What are the chief barriers to making ebooks more viable?

1. Amazon cares about nothing but market domination. It'd rather have 80% of an ebook market that's unappealing than 50% of an ebook market that's competitive, lively and interesting—hence its proprietary formats and efforts to get exclusivity.

2. Apple's upper management is functionally illiterate. Unlike with other medias (especially music) they have no vision for what digital books might become. So the iBookstore limps along, nice but not innovative, because it is underfunded. The iBookstore sells books like music or apps are sold. It needs to be far more than that. It needs to become most readers first stop when they shop for books. And iBooks needs to run on non-Apple hardware like iTunes.

3. Publishing executives with the imagination of a tree stump and the risk-adverse personalities of mice. Amazon is beating them because they cannot innovate or take risks. Theirs is a business that has hardly changed since steam-powered printing presses came along in the mid-1800s and it shows.

4. I can't neglect the Obama administration's DOJ and its zeal to help Amazon crush its ebook rivals and squelch competition. Are they stupid or crooked? Probably both. The good news is that their counterparts in Europe are showing more independence and better thinking.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

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