I saw this headline on an Internet news source this morning about ebooks outselling hardcover books for the first time ever in 2011. Although trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks still brought in more in total sales than ebooks, you can't conquer the world all at once, and the fact that ebooks brought in more than $2 billion last year is remarkable, and it's only likely to grow as time goes on.
I've spoken before about books in transition, and this is further evidence of a massive shift in how we get our reading entertainment. According to Reuters, although overall sales of books decreased by 2.5% last year, ebook sales jumped by over 15%, demonstrating further shift in the market. Several other blogs have picked up this story, continuing a trend that many writers are beginning to capitalize on.
So where does this leave the industry? Does this mean that within 15-20 years we'll be able to kiss those print books goodbye, that everyone will have a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo? Doubtful.
To begin with, have you checked out the prices on these devices. Even the most basic Kobo starts the bidding at $60, and it goes up from there. I couldn't find a single Kindle priced under $119. Yes, a large portion of the audience can buy these things, but not all. I'm not even sure a majority of readers will be able to do that. There are loads of people out there who won't shell out over $100 for an electronic reading device; they either can't afford it or they're too cheap.
Next, no matter how much the format for reading books advances, there are simply too many people who still prefer the visceral feel of books. I happen to be one of them. Granted, that's changing a little - the books I want to hold onto are the ones I buy in print nowadays, while the ones I'm not sure of are the ones I buy in digital form - but the habit has been too deeply ingrained in people to banish overnight. Besides reading something weighty, a lot of us take pride from a bookshelf full of books.
What's likely to happen is that print will become a bit of a niche, albeit a big one. I estimate that at least half of what we read will remain in print form for the foreseeable future. However, that still leaves a great deal of growth potential for the digital market. And as we older dinosaurs disappear, so will a portion of the print market. I don't think e-readers will get as popular as smart phones since fewer people read than text, but more and more people will be carrying around their device as time progresses - it's just more convenient to store 50 books on a thin pad than to lug around four or five books the size of The Stand.
It's an exciting time to be in the digital marketplace. Traditional publishers are slowly starting to realize the potential for the ebook, but they're still trying to price them like paperbacks, a price many won't pay, leaving a big opening for the independent author. I wonder what the landscape will look like in 20 years, and whether we'll just resort to just swallowing book pills or something.