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e-Books in 2010 and 2011

Warning Long Year End Opinionated Post:

My vote for the hottest topic of 2010 in libraries surely goes to “e-books”. This topic wasn’t only hot hot hot but also very misunderstood. There was much confusion as people (including library folks) were slightly confused about:

1. The difference between books and reading.

Make no mistake – reading is up up up across all
genres and generations. Reading is what matters. Too
many people are confusing the two and making
illogical predictions. (If you don’t think there’s a
difference just try to use the web without reading a lot!)

2. Red herrings like the hand wringing over the death of ‘print’ and the values in that format.

The smell and feel of books are minor in terms of the
overall experience of reading. The back and white and
polarized thinking here is frightening – especially amongst
librarians. Most formats will survive – especially paper,
hard copy, print, what have you. Their respective market
shares of the reading public will assuredly change. When
you hear some doomsday apocalyptic prediction, just
smile knowingly.

3. Difficulties in getting our heads around what the ‘marketplace’ for books is going to look like in the next year.

Bookstores will close. Some will survive very well –
especially when they change their business models.
That’s where the magic is, but I think at least one major
US bookstore brand will not make it through the next two
years. This major marketplace change really began with
Amazon and e-books are just a logical extension of that
change. Since Walmart and Costco are two of the
major players in book retailing now, we need to watch
that sector too.
4. Too much focus on the e-reader and not enough on the reading experience.

I think that the e-reader manufacturers have highjacked
the discussion and planted it too firmly as being about
the device and mere fiction reading and adding
subscriptions like periodicals and newspapers.
As I have been writing and speaking about for the
past year, for libraries it’s about non-fiction
and databases and this is not fully developed on e-
readers, although the iPad comes closer.

5. Who is going to speak for openness in access to reading and books (‘e’ or otherwise)?

How many times do we need Amazon to take back a
book that has been legally purchased to worry about
regulating this environment? How many times can Steve
Jobs and Apple ban an app or speech on their devices?
Do we allow any vendor or provider to libraries to
dictate what we can have in our libraries? Do we
restrict what our cardholders can read and decide that
we have the right to abrogate their freedoms? Where
do our associations and consortia stand on this issue?
Why the weak or lack of positions on this important
issue which surely trumps the banned books battles of
the last century? Are you delighted to have Steve Jobs
and Jeff Bezo’s personal values trumping yours?

6. Lastly, if books are so endangered then why are Apple, Google, Amazon, etc. making their major investments in that space?

The real debate isn’t whether e-books will trump print.
It is what e-book format(s) will ‘win’. Will it be an ISO
standard like EPUB? Will it be controlled by a proprietor
like Apple or Amazon? Will there be many of them?
Will it require a dedicated reader like a Kindle or Nook
or work in any browser (perhaps as HTML5) on a
computer or smartphone? Or something ese?

Anyway, enough editorializing from Stephen. Here are some recent soundbites that matter to the world of books and e-books:

U.S. publishers expanded digital offerings in 2010
Industry embraces electronic books, sees big jump in sales, but hardcover concerns linger.

“E-books now make up 9 to 10 percent of trade-book sales, a rate that grew hugely this year after accounting for less than half that percentage by the end of last year. Publishers are predicting that digital sales will be 50 percent higher or even double in 2011 what they were in 2010.

January could be the biggest month ever for e-book sales, as possibly hundreds of thousands of people download books on the e-readers that they receive as Christmas gifts.”

“”For some of our U.S. fall publication titles, nearly half of the overall first-week sales have been in the e-book format,” Dohle [Random House] wrote. “Led by this upsurge, our worldwide digital sales for 2010 are projected to grow by 250 percent over 2009’s.””

“Even as the spread of e-reading could expand the universe of book buyers, hardcover sales have suffered — perhaps in part cannibalized by the e-book sales. According to the Association of American Publishers, adult hardcover sales were down nearly 8 percent in the first 10 months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009. Since e-books are typically closer in price to a paperback edition than a hardcover, they could eat away at profits in the long run.”

As for the education market, I found this artice interesting:

The Race to the $100 Barrier for Device Dominance in Education — Smartphones, E-readers, and Tablets

Based on my observations of student behaviour, we seem to have passed the point where the vast majority of higher education students have computers and moved into the space where they are using multiple devices (phones, MP3 players, PCs, and e-readers) for different purposes. This is a major behavioral change that is not mirrored in their educators.

“One of the more important trends to watch in education for 2011 is the is the race to lock in some form of mobile device in education. Contenders for this trophy, in generic terms are the smartphone and the tablet. The winner will receive the lion’s share of the educational content business and all the ancillary revenues associated with that (device sales, activation fees, ancillary advertising etc.). The key drivers in this race will be cost and functionality.”

The textbook is a compromise container for pedagogy. What should it look like when the container no longer needs to drive the compromises? I think about 1/3 of higher educators prefer print, 1/3 desire e-solutions and 1/3 would like some hybrid. And that’s where we stand at the turn of the decade and things will (not may) change.

5 E-Book Trends That Will Change the Future of Publishing

“1. Enhanced ebooks are coming and will only get better;
2. The device war is nearly over;
3. The $9.99 ebook won’t last forever
4. The contextual upsell will be a business model to watch
5. Publishers will be more important than ever.”

Anyway, I’ll say it again. e-Books are the major challenge and opportunity of our time as librarians.

Many of you will have noticed that the Christmas present surge in e-readers was huge ths year. B&N suffered major downtime due to demand. The Amazon, Sony and Kobo stores were slower than normal. That’s the canary in the mine! The good news is that many of my friends asked for advice as to which reader in Canada would work with library collections too. That means that we’re getting the word out that there are differences in e-readers and that libraries are a source for e-books. I was happy to gift an iPad to my son who was thrilled to not have to carry Moby Dick and War & Peace to school this term and he’s already gone nuts downloading apps (many of them for books and reading). Yay!

Happy New Year.



Posted on: December 28, 2010, 2:23 pm Category: Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Good post, Stephen. I agree that the portable ereading experience should be the focus of our attention, not the device.

    Having said that, concerning devices I hope that 2011 will see a maturation of devices in the 7-inch tablet computer range, with major cell plan providers allowing voice communication (along with data, SMS, MMS, etc.) on these mid-range devices between smaller cell phones and larger iPad-type tablets.

    Within a few years most readers (alas, only about half the adult population here in the U.S.) will do most of their reading on personal portable devices of some sort. Printed books will not go away, but they’ll serve another cultural purpose. Analogously, there are still millions of horses in the U.S., even though it’s been decades since most people used them as their principal means of transportation.

  2. Tom:
    I love the horse analogy!

  3. David Stern said

    I heard a speaker state there will always be paper books … just like there will always be horse drawn carriages in Central Park.

  4. Karyn Siegmann said

    Back in 1999 at the public libraries in Perth (Australia) a key note speaker addressed the topic of the death of the print book and electronic formats. His main contention was that film, theatre, television and video managed to find a balance and one did not necessarily mean that the former died (cinemas were the most visited cutlural venue in austalia in 2009) and so the same will happen with the printed book. We will use both eBook and print fromats depending on our personal needs.