2008: The eBook Goes Mainstream

January 7th, 2008 · 22 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Though I hesitate to make predictions, I’ve always been a bandwagon sort of girl, so here is mine for 2008 (what? too late? never.): 2008 will be the year that ebooks go mainstream. In the ten years I’ve been writing about epublishing and ebooks, the dual stories of the ubiquity of ebooks and the death of the novel have made headlines, the latter surely more than the former.

People outside the publishing industry are talking about ebooks.

In 1996, Hardshell Word Factory was established as an epublisher. In 1998, I wrote a profile of Mary Z. Wolf, the former author turned publisher who had bought Hardshell from its founder. And, in 1998, the Romance Writers of America was roiled by the first of its continuing internal battles about epublishing and how the format fits into the organization. If I thought the pitched battles then were hardcore, I soon realized they were nothing compared with what was to come.

The RWA’s problem, from my perspective, is that both sides wanted epublishing to be something it was not. The traditionalists applied traditional publishing standards and mores to a new, often experimental medium. The epublished group often touted facts and figures that were more predictions than reality. The issue of epublishing has been a polarizing force for the RWA; it is my belief that unhealed wounds have stagnated the organization’s ability to apply logic and foresight to non-traditional publishing, leaving many RWA members unprepared for the future.

Mixed up in the epublishing/ebook argument is the question of how one reads these books. Starting with the brick-like Rocket eBook and continuing to the Kindle, ereaders remain the annointed killer device. If only people would realize it, you know?

Seriously, it’s not about the device, though if I were asked to sit down with someone who has lots and lots of money, I’d be happy to design the perfect ereader (Steve Jobs, if you need my phone number…). eBooks are a growing force in the market. If you poke around outside the New York publishing industry, you will soon find that normal Americans are reading ebooks. Weirdly (or perhaps happily), many don’t realize that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Detractors of epublishing believe that bound and printed book is the perfect machine; they cannot imagine that anyone would willingly spend hours in front of a computer screen or staring at a reading device. Many of these detractors worry that new technology will kill the old. These are the folks who need to take a very strong chill pill.

The first step to understanding is ebooks is the realization that this is the modern world: you do not have to have an either/or mentality. If you like your books in print format, buy and read your books in print format. If you like your books in electronic format, ditto. And if you’re like an increasing number of humans who like variety and flexibility, the reading world is your magical realm.

eBooks complement print books. They are not a challenge, they are not a replacement, and they are not trying to kill the novel.

Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle has, if anything, introduced the notion of ebooks into the mainstream of reading. Before I was someone babbling about foreign concepts; last week, a colleague who resides more comfortably in the tried-and-true of technology pulled up an article and told me, rather excitedly, that the Kindle thing I’d mentioned was cited as one of the technological great leaps forward for 2008.

My word: not good enough. Computer magazine mashing up the top tech stories of the past six months: gold.

The Kindle is just a vehicle. The Sony Reader is just a vehicle. My lovely iBook (which is still going strong after all these years) is vehicle. Your cell phone is just a vehicle. Your [fill in favorite handheld PDA here] is just a vehicle. All of these tools are how readers access books to read. Fiction, non-fiction, long books, short books, snippets, and more.

The only thing that can kill the mainstreaming of ebooks is the publishing industry itself. As major music companies finally put the nail in the coffin of DRM (finally Sony might do something right with its massive software library), publishers must do the same. Tying books to hardware makes no logical sense. Limiting my ability to read a book that I’ve legally purchased on the device of my choice only frustrates me. The music biz has been twisting in the wind for a good decade now because they’ve spent so much time trying to stop the future that they’ve lost the audience.

People outside the publishing industry are talking about ebooks. The conversation is no longer of the “huh?” variety, but rather of the “I think I’m going to check this out” and “You know, I can take a dozen books on vacation” variety.

I don’t think ebook sales with eclipse print book sales anytime soon. There are many reasons for that. But I do believe that 2008 is the year the conversation changes. My next question is: can the industry embrace the future?

[tags]epublishing, epub, ebooks, publishing, future of the book, future of publishing, hardshell word factory, 2008 predictions, amazon, kindle, amzn[/tags]

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

22 responses so far ↓

  • Annie Frantz // Jan 7, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I sincerely hope that electronic books will offer college students an inexpensive alternative to $100 textbooks … and commuters something to do with their computers enroute to a destination.

    But I don’t want them in my life.

    I love the feel and smell of books. I love to spread them about me as I work, digging into one phrase or another or comparing sources. I love books all around my house, on shelves and in cases that add a feeling of comfort and friendship to once-bare walls.
    And mostly I love to read them, savoring fonts and page-turning, looking back and ahead at will, absorbing the joy or sorrow of the story I’m reading without the eye-straining monochromatic world of the ebook.

    For me? Never. The Internet is a fabulous tool, and fun for gamers. But it isn’t my choice and never will be.

    Paper, baby! I just can’t savor screen tomes.

    Annie Frantz
    Lancaster MA

  • Gwen M. // Jan 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I totally agree that eBooks are to compliment paper books, not replace them. There is nothing like curling up on the sofa with a big thick novel in your hands (though a snazzy eReader might be close) but there are times when that’s not an option and, stuck on a bus with naught but a laptop or cell phone, one could still be entertained.

    The other thing I noticed is that I really read different things in both mediums. There are certain genres that are very strongly ePubed and there’s just more to choose from. If I want a NYT bestseller – I’ll probably pick up a hard copy, but for my everyday romance fix – eBooks are more sensible, portable and cheaper.

  • David Thayer // Jan 7, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    This very morning a financial writer discovered the Kindle which he quickly realized enables him to buy, sell or hold The Economist plus 200 books on his clean well lighted screen. He went to say that no one reads anymore even though his article was about him reading, how the Kindle is sold out and Amazon will rule the universe. Apparently a lot of Kindle owners bought one before remembering they don’t read.

  • K.S.R. Kingworth // Jan 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    OK, so I’m really naive. Where do people buy ebooks?

  • avagee // Jan 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    For a while now I have been reading on my cell phone. I get books from http://www.booksinmyphone.com They package up public domain and creative commons books to run on regular ‘dumb’ cell phones.

    I think they have put together a pretty compelling experience:
    * good search ability for finding books
    * you can install directly to the phone from the mobile version of the site
    * their reader clean and page based (not scrolling like PDFs) with some useful features like controlling font size for ‘old eyes’
    * the ultra portability of adding books to what I carry anyway is a real boon.

    For novels I don’t want a bigger device.

  • moonrat // Jan 7, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    amazon sure is trying, though, aren’t they? they’ve set their algorithms so that in most cases the first book hit on a keyword search is the kindle version. and i’ve seen people on the train reading e-books.

    i’m just too blind to stare more at a screen than i do already. but of course that makes all us editors happy that we’ve been reserving electronic publishing rights on our books for the last couple of years.

  • Marion Gropen // Jan 7, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    E-books, as they are now, are no threat to “p-books,” I agree. I do think, though, that there will be a tipping point when the devices get good enough to challenge paper for a better reading experience. And then, the mpb format may, may be in trouble in some genres and subjects. And that will have convulsive effects, I think, on the infra structure of our business. Coincidentally, I just did a big old post on this on my blog, and there’s been some resulting discussion on some of the publishing listservs. This is an issue where opinion is definitely divided, and I’m glad you’re addressing it.

  • Lori James // Jan 8, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Great post! Regarding eBook reading devices, I know that the Kindle is getting a lot of press lately – but another device was released in Europe a month or so prior that’s non-DRM that I’m a huge fan of. It’s the Cybook Gen3 by Bookeen. I had the opportunity to preview the device in NYC this past November and it’s really something the January 18th issue of our Wildfire newsletter will contain an article about it. If you aren’t on the mailing list, you can link to the archive from the home page of our website. Or, you can check out the device specs at http://www.bookeen.com

    Lori James
    All Romance eBooks

    P.S. We’re one of those places where you can buy eBooks…we carry romance ebooks from over 100 different publishers. Our tagline…All the romance you need from all the publisher you love.

  • Diana Hunter // Jan 8, 2008 at 9:07 am

    As a writer whose work appears in both ebook and print formats, I have a somewhat different perspective than some (mostly when it comes to my royalty…which is a higher percentage per ebook than per print book. Go buy ebooks…LOTS of ebooks!).

    But I’m also a reader. While I, too, like the look, the feel, the smell of a print book, I have to say I LOVE the ability to change the font size on an ebook! As my eyes get older and that print seems to get smaller (a trick of aging, I know!), ebooks allow me to continue my habit with ease.

    Then again, setting also plays a role in what I want…
    Cold winter’s day, warm fire, cup of hot chocolate: print paperback (fantasy or romance genre)

    Waiting for (insert name of sport here) practice to end so I can pick up my little darlings: ebook on my laptop.

    I like the fact I can pick and choose formats!

  • Joe Wikert // Jan 9, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Diana, be sure to do all the math before you plug e-book royalties over print book royalties. David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) had a great article in the last issue of Wired that showed how musicians make less per album sold on iTunes than they do of the same sold as a physical CD, despite a higher royalty rate for the former. The reason: Selling price. The same law is likely to hold true with e-books, assuming publishers learn what Amazon is ready to teach about how e-books need to be priced lower than p-books.

    Kassia, I couldn’t agree with you more on all points. In fact, that’s why I recently launched a new blog dedicated to the Kindle — it’s called Kindleville and it’s been a lot of fun up to now. Regarding publishers and the need for them to buy into the e-book world, yes, you’re absolutely right. Many will go kicking and screaming into it, but those who don’t are likely to be chronicled in the next edition of Jeff Gomez’s “Print Is Dead”, a great book, btw!

    FWIW, despite my drinking of the Kindle KoolAid, I’m also a realist when it comes to e- vs. p-books. I certainly don’t expect e-books to represent anything more than a rounding error for the p-world, something in the neighborhood of 2-5% (at best!) of total revenues for e-books compared to p-books.

  • thedigitalist.net » links for 2008-01-10 // Jan 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    […] 2008: The eBook Goes Mainstream | Booksquare Maybe, we’ll see. However couldn’t agree more with sentences like “eBooks complement print books. They are not a challenge, they are not a replacement, and they are not trying to kill the novel.” Damn right. (tags: ebooks publishing) This entry was written by delicious and posted on at 3:32 am and filed under delicious. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  • Lynne Connolly // Jan 12, 2008 at 6:23 am

    Interesting to hear what the outside world thinks of ebooks. I’ve been e-published for 5 (6?) years now, so I was there in the Wild West of epublishing.
    I’m still here. Mainly because I’m in the UK, and epublishing gives me an opening to the world. I remember the first time someone from India wrote to me to say how much they enjoyed my books. Revelation and sheer delight from small party sitting on her sofa in England. Living here, we don’t get American authored romances. Our bookstores don’t stock them. But I can go online to Simon and Schuster, or Pocket, or wherever and buy the book on the day of release at its American price.
    I also have shelf on shelf of dead-tree books. Why does there have to be a choice?
    And I have my lovely ebookwise to read them on.
    Oh, and when you get 30% and up in royalties, you can, if you’re with the right company, make a decent living.
    What the ebook industry needs now is a JK Rowling phenomenon, somebody who sells, sells, sells. We’ve had our bestsellers, and many ebook authors also sell to New York, (MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight, Linnea Sinclair et al) but what we really need now is an out and out JK of a bestseller.
    It won’t be long coming.

  • Teri Thackston // Jan 12, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    I agree with the statement that ebooks compliment p-books. It’s just a new choice, not a death knell for print. I love reading paperbacks and always will. But I also love being able to download a novel at 3 am without ever leaving my bed. I love being able to adjust the font. And the books I’ve written are available in both formats. I love that, too. There’s room for both.

  • Carolina Valdez // Jan 12, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve been published in print and electronically. I love ebooks because I have arthritis in my hands now, and holding a paperback open is a killer.

    Also, I’m out of space for print books. Standing in line at the post office or waiting in a physician’s office is tolerable when I pull out my ebook reader.

    But I love going into bookstores! I can’t imagine a time when we won’t have them.

  • J L Wilson // Jan 13, 2008 at 6:11 am

    I have 3 types of ebook readers, although my new Kindle may make the rest of them obsolete. I’m one of those people who seldom buys paper books any more. If a book isn’t available for download, I have to seriously think about whether I want it or not.

    I’m published in print and in electronic format and it’s annoying to explain to people that an electronic book is a ‘real’ book. But when I pull out my Kindle or Ebookwise and show them, there’s an instant ‘wow’ factor that no paper book can give.

    I view both media — print and electronic — as a way to reach a broader audience with my stories. But I look forward to the day when I can go into a bookstore, see a title, pull out my Kindle and download it (or go to a Kindle Kiosk and find it).

    The one thing the Kindle has done for me — my TBR stack has increased ginormously. The fact that I can download a sample and read it then decide to buy the book means that I’ve sampled many authors and have purchased far more books than if I’d done a search for a particular title.

    I am looking forward to a few long plane flights so I can get caught up!

  • Amy Corwin // Jan 13, 2008 at 7:10 am

    This article comes at such an interesting time for me. As a writer published in both ebook and print formats, I have long felt the only big thing holding back ebooks was the lack of a really decent delivery and reading device that did not lock you down to one “store”. DRM in other words. I sincerely hope as the market matures, they realize how foolish DRM is and it begins to fall away.
    As a reader, I am heartened by the new generation of ebook readers. It comes at an interesting time for me because I have noticed in my own reading behavior that I have slowly edged away from reading material in book form, even though I do love books and will continue to buy them. The issues I face now are a lack of shelf space and my inability to actually find a reference work when I need it or locate the page containing the reference.
    For work, I have entirely abandoned printed matter in favor of references either online or at least on my computer where I can search and find what I need within minutes. Of course, for this to be practical, I’ve had to set up two monitors–one to display the reference material and the other to display what I’m working on.
    The point, however, is that if I would break down and buy a real ebook reader, I would, in essence, have a third monitor from which I could search/read reference material. And for me, that would be a dream come true.
    “Less is not more. More is more.” as Dolly Parton says.
    So I’m finally ready to buy an ebook reader. I’m hoping the DRM bugaboos will work themselves out over time. (That stuff never works. Folks should have learned that by now–how many times do we computer geeks have to break a DRM protection scheme so that we can back something up and use it according to the software license before folks learn that DRM only hurts the honest people and causes customers NOT to buy?)
    I can’t wait to be able to carry around fifty or sixty fiction and reference works with me when I travel. Or when I just want to read in bed.
    Based upon my own experiences and my gradual (but inevitable) move toward favoring electronically delivered material, I really think ebooks have finally arrived.
    Now if they could just perfect that “browsing” thing because I, for one, often prefer relatively unknown writers to the ‘big names” always offered as first choice. It really irritates me to have to scroll past page after page of authors I would never buy and have never bought, simply because they are, apparently, bestsellers. I wish some online booksellers had a block you could click on to say, “Never, ever offer me books by this author again.” It’s easier to walk past them in a bookstore than try to get beyond them in a estore.
    Anyway, thanks for the article–I really enjoyed it!

  • Isabel Martens // Jan 14, 2008 at 10:07 am

    My only problem with Amazon is that if you don’t own a Kindle you can’t read their books. Big disappointment cause I got $200 in gift certificates for Amazon for Christmas and planned to stock up on ebooks for my Dell reader.
    “Johanna” contempory romance by Awe Struck
    “Clementine” Regency romance by Awe Struck

  • Jeff Barry // Jan 17, 2008 at 5:37 am

    When the e-book goes mainstream, then authors will have even more opportunities for bypassing the traditional publishing industry. An author with a popular Web site in a niche topic who is engaging in the online conversation swirling around that topic already has a better distribution channel than the traditional publisher. A successful author can’t do it alone (still needing an editor, designer, marketer) but e-book authors will have a harder decision to make as they consider whether to publish an e-book directly from their site or to share the expenses & revenue with a traditional publisher.

  • Mlyn Hurn // Jan 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I have had the privilege of having 20 ebooks published through Ellora’s Cave, a premier e-publisher for Romantica novels in new electronic format. What I found interesting was that only once I had a few of my books that had since come out in print on my bookshelf did it become a reality to my family and friends. Before that point I don’t know if anyone really believed me that people actually paid to read something I had written. Strange world.

  • Jack // Feb 3, 2008 at 11:10 am

    As a cost-cutting tool, like Annie Frantz says, e-books can be an asset. They, nevertheless leave a lot to be desired by not being tangible. I like to underline my books with a pencil and to write notes on their margins—to say nothing of the uncomfortable position that one must adopt to read them. I don’t believe that printed books will be replaced by e-books very soon.

  • BadgerFiles » Blog Archive » Links 12-Jan-2008 // Jan 10, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    […] 2008: The eBook Goes Mainstream. Here’s a thoughtful post from Kassia Krozser from Booksquare on ebooks. The first step to understanding is ebooks is the realization that this is the modern world: you do not have to have an either/or mentality. If you like your books in print format, buy and read your books in print format. If you like your books in electronic format, ditto. […]

  • E-Publishing // Nov 26, 2010 at 4:44 am

    Thanks to shared your knowledge with us.