E-Book Milestone

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On July 19, 2010 Amazon.com, Inc. said it had reached a milestone, selling more e-books than hardbacks over the last three months.

Amazon painted a picture of accererating growth in the the sales of e-books, which can be read on its Kindle device and through software on a host of other devices, including Apple’s iPad and iPhone. Competitor Barnes and Noble offers nook.  

In June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had claimed that his company’s iBookstore, which had launched in April, had taken over 20% of the market.

Publishers said it is too early to tell whether the growth of e-books is also impacting the sales of softcover books, a huge and crucial market.

Mike Shatzkin, CEO of The Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change, said “this was a day that had to come.” Mr. Shatzkin predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions. Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and musty smell need a reality check, he warned.

I discussed the impact of Kindle and nook at the Quo Vadis annual meeting in June. It is not so much the proliferation of electronic devices that worries me, since we have lived with them and computer calendar programs for ten years now.

My worry is the loss of bookstores – both chains and independents – and other places that sell books and related paper products like planners and journals. The more we go electronic, the fewer places there will be to buy paper.  Many of the independents we do business with are worried; increasingly  they have to deal with rising rent and declining foot traffic.

How do you see this Amazon milestone impacting your life?

7 thoughts on “E-Book Milestone

  1. So let me ask this question: what happens when the Kindle/iPad of the future can look, smell, and feel like a leather-bound book with paper pages? No reason not to think that such readers will be available at some time, and they will enhance the reading experience for those who want it and be as quick as changing the size of the font.

    I’m thinking one way for booksellers to generate revenue without necessarily competing is to buy 40 or 50 e-readers and start a lending library with them. Give your credit/debit card over as security, then rent a Kindle and your choice of book for 1 or 2 or 3 weeks.

    • The local library actually does this! It downloads to your computer, but it still “expires” which makes accessing it impossible until you “check it out” again.

      E-readers & books have their place in way out of the way places that even the library can’t reach. So, there is good in them. Still, I love the physical part of reading. I love the physical part of the bookstore and library.

  2. I don’t purchase or read e-books. For me, doing that would be missing out on part of the essential experience of reading. As Dirck de Lint said in an earlier comment, reading is a “tactile and olfactory experience,” and merely reading words on a screen is, in my opinion, a poor substitute. One of my favourite books, for its physical properties, is a leather-bound edition of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens from the 1950’s. It has a soft, flexible spine, ribbon bookmark, and a lovely pen-and-ink sketch on the flyleaf that a previous owner drew. No Kindle or iPad could compare with that.

    I buy nearly all of my books in bookstores, as shipping costs make purchasing online simply too expensive. Even more importantly, browsing for books online in your own home does not compare at all with exploring an actual bookstore, running your hand over the shelves and stumbling across unlikely finds. I would be very sad if my local independent bookstores began closing down.

    Books are probably among the oldest pieces of technology that are still in active use today, and I think that for true bibliophiles, like myself, e-readers will be no replacement for physical books.

    (Anyway, sorry for the rant. I got a bit carried away.)

  3. Interestingly enough, I read (somewhere) that a big stumbing point was discovered by students who bought e-books for their college text books. They couldn’t be treated like paper. Yes, they have “highlighters” and “bookmarks”, but they just weren’t capable of the full function of paper books (I didn’t really catch the details) and therefore the students weren’t doing as well in their classes.

    What little bit of time I was fortunate to spend in college flashed back to me. I went nuts in the pages of my books. I wrote in the margins, bent page corners, highlighted, underlined, and filled them with post-its galore. In short, my books were not returnable. But I did great!

    Yes, I’ve purchased e-books, but these were self-published e-books that never were in paper. I had to print them out. I found that I can’t read full pages of text on the screen. Even some emails are too long for me.

  4. The owners of THE remaining locally-owned bookstore are shutting down their physical operation, while apparently retaining an online presence (http://www.bookbrier.ca/). The owners have said pretty bluntly that between The Big Chain a few blocks away and Amazon, they’re not making enough to keep a roof on the whole affair.

    This affects me in so much as if I want to go out and buy a book, which is something I’m very unlikely to do online, my first choice is gone. I’m of the camp that holds that reading a book is more than simply applying head-mounted photosensors to lines of text– it’s a tactile and olfactory experience as well. The eBook gizmos are cool, but they’re not the same thing.

  5. As the owner of both the Kindle and iPad (which gives me apps to read books using Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Borders), I can see the problem coming down the road for bookstores and stationery shops. While I won’t give up taking notes on paper, some of my iPad apps are just as good if not better. Right now I don’t whip out the iPad to take notes because it’s cumbersome, but I have to say I felt the same way about my large Rhodia Le Carre notepad.

    I think anything paper-based is going to take a huge hit for one reason: eventually an e-book reader is what every child will use to read on, and will keep using as an adult. Paper books may become a thing of the past, in the same way that no one uses a slide rule to calculate anymore (remember that scene from Apollo 13?).

    Having said that, I think there will always be people who will want to read paper books as well as use paper planners and paper notepads, myself included. But I can’t see paper-based products as a growth industry at this moment. Some innovation is needed, but what it will look like I couldn’t say.

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