Cassettes. VHS. 8-track. These technologies all had a good run but are now things of the past. Will books in print meet a similar fate? In the last few years, the eBook market has grown exponentially, especially since the release of eReader devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eReader. Despite all the hype surrounding eBooks, the print book remains. It is a technology that has survived millennia. Change, however, is slowly coming to the publishing industry and even to the core definition of what is a book. As more companies enter the eReader market and as the reading public become more accepting of eBooks, this change will likely accelerate until reading on a digital device becomes the de facto standard.
Changing of the eBook from PDF to interactive text
The majority of eBooks published today still come from traditional publishing houses, and are simply a print book converted into digital format and made available online. While the Kindle and most other eReaders offer various features that the print book does not, such as a built-in dictionary and note-taking capabilities, there is not a significant difference in the overall reading experience. To truly harness the potential of the digital medium, eReader technology will have to advance and publishers will have to produce content that capitalizes on the interactive nature of the web. Various sectors of the publishing industry, textbook publishers for example, have already started to adapt to this changing landscape and currently offer customizable and hyperlinked text. At this point in time, however, some books still just work better in print. Cookbooks and childrens’ picture books both rely heavily on color and layout and don’t yet transfer well to digital devices, although this will likely change in the future. However, for the next few years, print books will remain the main sellers, with eBooks more of a side revenue for publishers. This will change when eBooks manage to embrace their potential for interactivity and eReaders develop beyond providing a simple imitation of reading print.
Convergence of Devices
Both Amazon and Sony entered the eReader market early on in the game. The devices they developed both use E Ink Technology, which took away many readers’ objections to converting to reading on a screen. E Ink makes reading from a screen similar to reading from a page. Although these two devices were both released less than five years ago, there have already been many changes in eReader technology and many other companies have joined the competition and created eReaders of their own. Apple releases its iPad in mid-2010, which is not only an eReader but a tablet computer with a hard drive and large memory. Barnes & Noble came out with the Nook in late 2009. Their device combines both E Ink and LCD screens in an attempt to capture the benefits of both screen types. Spring Design’s Alex, which has not yet reached the market, has a similar design. One screen will be optimal for browsing and the other for reading longer text- based documents. There is increasingly less distinction between various devices, as the line becomes blurred between a PC or an MP3 player or an eReader or a mobile phone. In the future, one device may encompass all a user’s needs, but for the moment eReaders seem to be evolving in stages, adding new features with each new device released.
Free and Less Expensive Books
The eBook market, although it is growing at an amazing rate, still makes up a small percentage of overall book sales. This will most likely change as the cost of eReaders drop and more people find that reading digital books can be an enjoyable experience. The fact that eBooks cost almost half as much as a hardcover is also a significant motivator to push readers to switch to digital. Many eBooks are not only low-priced but free. Sites such as Project Gutenberg and Google Books offer thousands of free public domain titles for download. Recently, Macmillan, a large trade publishers, fought with Amazon over the right to price books themselves instead of accepting that books cost $9.99 or less. Amazon eventually caved, but the reading public is coming to expect eBooks to be priced far below the cost of a print book. Apple is shaking up the price structure by agreeing to let publishers have more autonomy in setting the price of their books available through the Apple store. Instead of setting a flat price, the cost will be determined relative to the hardback edition. This price war for eBooks will be interesting to watch play out, but the future seems guaranteed to offer cheaper books and more affordable eReaders.
The book market has changed very quickly in a very short time for both publishers and authors. It is easier than ever before to publish a work, as in the digital space there are no printing or storage costs to cover. With this ease of publication, however, there is already a glut of titles on the market. This makes it extremely hard for an author to break through the noise. Tradition publishing houses still provide a sense of authority to authors and a sense of security to readers because they function as gate keepers, ensuring, in most cases, that only the most worthy content reaches the printed page. In the digital world, publishers are trying to catch up and stay relevant by releasing eBooks and pursuing such innovative projects as publishing a novel in installments on mobile phones. While Google, Apple, and Amazon, third-party distributors of content, have developed eReaders, no publishing company has yet to develop a device of their own. This could prove troublesome to publishers in the future, as these companies may at some point decide to go into the publishing business themselves.