Monday, April 20, 2009

E-Books Are A Step Forward

Amidst blistering sales of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, there are various doom and gloom prognostications about the future of books.

Today's Wall Street Journal brings us a different perspective, an in-depth analysis of how e-book sales promise to revolutionize book reading in positive ways. See "How The E-Book Will Change The Way We Read And Write."

Steven Johnson, an author who wrote the WSJ's article, is spot-on with his review.

We would add a number of other points. One, without the E-book, the future of the book itself would be bleak, indeed. We have a whole generation growing up that's used to accessing information online and in electronic format, and we want them to be reading books, so e-books are a positive advance.

Two, the reason books have been so successful over the past 500 years is that they were an economical, portable way to store and convey information. We now have even more economical, portable ways to store and convey information, so its natural that the physical world of books, papers, printers, bookstores, warehouses, bookcases, etc. should gradually give way to this new technology. We haven't heard too many people lamenting the demise of hand-copied illuminated manuscripts in the wake of the printing press.

Books are great. But they take up a lot of space, require lots of trees to make paper, need transport and otherwise require a lot of physical handling. The cost of most books includes several dollars just for printing, binding, storage and transport. In time, the cost of e-books should come down significantly. Right now, an author gets roughly 10-25% of the money paid to purchase a book, while the rest goes to the printer, publisher, bookstore, etc. There's no reason why an author couldn't do quite well selling an e-book for $10 and keeping, say, 80% of that money. Cheaper books would ultimately lead to more sales.

Portability is also a factor. When the Curmudgeon went on a cruise late last year, he took three books along. They were fairly heavy in his carry-on bag. In contrast, today's Kindle weighs about the same as a small paperback, and yet it is like having a million books with you.

E-books will also make it easier to illustrate and annotate books with images, weblinks, maps and other useful information.

That said, we're still pretty traditional around here--we like a good book, in traditional book form. We hope the traditional book will still be around for another 40 years, but we suspect the future lies firmly with the emerging e-book form.

No comments: