It is written …

For the month of November, I read a total of four ebooks. I didn’t read any book printed on paper, at all, and that marks a first for me. Nevertheless, before I get too carried away I might remind myself that I own somewhere in the region of 5,000 hard copy books, and maybe 25 ebooks. I am not about to become an electronic-only reader.

The fact that this is still very much an emerging market is made clear by the fact that US publisher Simon & Schuster recently stated that 7 per cent of its book sales are now ebook versions. That may not sound much, but five years ago the figure would have been zero. I would guess that by 2020 it will be well over 50 per cent.

Apart from the obvious questions about habit and taste that will determine how fast the ebook spreads, we should also be asking how publication will work in future. As you and I can now publish for free whatever we want on a huge number of blogs and other websites, will that be the model for book publishing – or will we need a more traditional type publisher to promote and market our work?

Books contain the narrative of our society and our world. They are a distinct source of knowledge, distinguishable from newspapers and magazines. They have a sense of shape, both physically and intellectually. Can this be maintained in electronic format?

As ebook reader devices become ever more sophisticated, I am willing to bet that this is the future of authoring and reading. However, I will also bet that in 10 years I will still on occasion take a leather-bound volume off the shelf and settle down to read it. If I’m spared.

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8 Comments on “It is written …”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Leather-bound is it and sipping a glass of Moet.:-D Why do I suspect that it’ll be a tatty Penguin edition of something you’ve read but lost.
    The thing about the new medium, it will reduce the risk on the publisher. This should achieve two things, cheaper books and more of them. Now while this can be a distinct plus, the cost acted as a filter to stuff they were willing to bet their own money would sell.
    They had very interesting numbers. One in ten would make serious money while the other nine acted as a sort of back catalogue, where it was a plus if they washed their face.

  2. Dan Says:

    Books will survive, but their perception and usage will change – and there will be a particular change in universities and education, as can already be seen in our online teaching uses of peer-review, digital journal papers. In a medieval monastic – or a modern university – library, there might be a single copy of a much needed book. With digital books, an infinite range of “copies” will be available to an entire class and the old essay writer’s excuse; “it wasn’t in the library” will be as outmoded as “my quill snapped”. However, we will have different challenges. Has the student actually read the book/paper or have they used some software to analyse texts to present a plausible ‘reading’ of it – or will that, indeed, stand as a form of “reading”. In my discipline, vast amounts of data exist in grey literature in digital formats, the research challenges of the future will be in “reading” and understanding this data. But I’d still prefer a good evening with a book, as can be seen by the 15 barely read ebooks on my iPad!

  3. copernicus Says:

    I am a professional in computing, but I like the touch and feel of hard copy books.

  4. anna notaro Says:

    In Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris the archedeacon Claude Frollo pronounces the famous slogan ‘Ceci tuera cela’ as he touches a printed book and glances nostalgically at the cathedral towers.  “This will kill that.” Frollo’s prediction is that the book will kill the cathedral, the alphabet will kill images. While architecture has changed since Hugo’s novel was written, the printed word has not eliminated it. Similarly ebooks, or vooks  
    won’t entirely replace books. The book itself when it came on the scene was not the intuitive device we are familiar with today, as this funny video shows

    Also, let’s not forget that even on the crudest, most materialist standard involving financial returns, the book is no longer ‘at the center’ of our culture as the primary means of recording and disseminating information and entertainment, the sales of books now have fallen well behind the sales of television, cinema, and video games. Publishing houses and Bookstores are fighting back: In April 2009, academic chain Blackwell had the UK launch of the snazzy in-store Espresso POD machine, which can print a book in about four minutes. In America Barnes & Noble have launched the nook (

    What I find intriguing is that the interest in the history of the book (and not only among media scholars)is flourishing now, in this “late age of print,” it is as if the question, “What is a book?” gets broached anew by every next ebook platform and ebook application. This is because the ontology (that is, the “What is?” question) of printed books continually shifts and slides, remade again and again by all of the ways that people use printed and digital forms as well as by the ways they create, buy, and sell them.
    It is also worth noting that e-readers aren’t going much of anywhere for as long as they continue to be modeled so  definitively on a predecessor technology i.e. as long as we persist in calling them e-books. The French publishing group Editis, produced a video that presents a fascinating set of possible futures for reading devices (video starts after 45 sec.)

    Finally, in case we still long for that nice old book smell..we can always get an aerosol e-book enhancer 🙂

  5. kevin denny Says:

    But surely a decisive advantage of real books is that when they are bad (which lets face it, many of them are) you can throw them across the room, burn them or otherwise mutilate them.

  6. Donald Brown Says:

    Ebook readers, or E-readers as they have become to be known as have really taken off. Amazon’s Kendle E-reader has become quite popular with others coming onto the scene all of the time. A matter of fact, as of 2010, ebook sales have actually surpassed physical book sales by leaps and bounds.

    E-readers are actually one of the hottest items on people’s Christmas lists this year, and it is only going to gain momentum as more and more authors publish electronically. A matter of fact, due to the fact that publishing an ebook is so easy to do, just about anyone can become a published author these days thanks to technology, the internet and e-reading devices such as the Kendle.

    There’s no doubt that electronic reading will become the norm, rather than just the acception. It has already happened with reading applications for cell phones and other devices popping up onto the scene. So electronic reading has finally made it into the public scene. It just needed some time to happen, and the time had to be right.

    In the earlier days of E-readers, people weren’t ready for the idea or the technology. It just wasn’t there yet. That is why in the early days of e-readers, they didn’t sell well. Technology had to change, and more and more people had to get onto the Internet, and portable devices such as the cell phone had to get onto the web, as well as a whole host of other devices had to come onto the scene in order for ebooks to really take off like they do now.

    You can bet that in the very near future, ebook sales of both their devices and the books themselves will definitely be outweighing print book sales by leaps and bounds. Just as it was with the compact disc, so will be the days of the traditional book store. you will see those fade into a distant memory, and then when you tell your grandchildren about places called book stores they will stare at you like you came from another planet.

    Ebook are here to say and they will just gain in popularity as devices and technology improves greatly. Pretty soon, people will not think nothing about buying an ebook reader and ebooks themselves. They will be as common place as printed books were in the past.

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