Bill's Blog

Book Publishing and the Digital Revolution

Oct 11, 2010

My wife Martha loves her Kindle. It’s a remarkable device. If she finishes Patricia Cornwell’s latest novel while reading in bed, she can browse through an online bookstore and download another novel without so much as throwing back the covers. At the airport, while waiting for her flight to be called, she can download and read the latest issues of Newsweek or USA Today.  If she’s having a conversation with a friend and the friend says, “You’ve got to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – you guessed it, all she has to do is reach for her Kindle and download the book.

She loves the convenience of the Kindle, and she’s reading more because of it. She’s sure that I would love the convenience of it, too.

Maybe I would. You can’t deny that taking that slim reading tablet on vacation is a lot easier than lugging several books along. The problem is, I love books. I love the feel of a book in my hands, and I love browsing through bookstores. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. The Kindle is great, but . . . well, old dogs, new tricks.

But when I see the trend in e-book sales, I realize that things are changing in my world. Amazon recently announced that they’re selling more Kindle e-books than printed hardcover books. Keep in mind that the comparison is to hardcover books sold by Amazon. E-book sales still have a ways to go before they’ll outpace sales of all printed books. Still, the trend is clear. According to the Association of American Publishers, E-book sales in July 2010 increased by 150.2 percent compared to July 2009. Year-to-date e-book sales through July were up 191.0 percent. Sales of e-book readers are also growing. Besides the Kindle, you can also read e-books on Apple’s iPad, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, several Sony models, and even smartphones.

It makes me wonder how much longer I’ll be able to find physical bookstores to browse through. The thought that printed books and bricks-and-mortar bookstores might be going the way of the dodo bird makes me feel a little sad and grumpy. But I can handle it. After all, the most important thing is that we have books to read and that a wide and wonderful variety of talented authors keep writing them.

So how are the growing e-book trends changing the publishing business? Depends on who you talk to. I found some interesting online articles that might give you some perspective.

  • Will technology kill book publishing? Not even close – In this USA Today article, Harold McGraw III and Philip Rappel offer an optimistic view of e-books as a “new beginning” rather than the beginning of the end for the book publishing industry. This is a great article. If you’re a writer who wants to break into this business, it’s well worth your time.
  • E-Reader Users Buy, Read More Books – This article discusses a Harris Interactive poll revealing that people with e-book devices are not only reading more than other Americans, but also more than they did before they owned the technology.
  • How do you have a book signing with an e-book? – This is an interesting news report about a book publishing conference called “The Future of the Book.” Various publishing professionals discuss the changing publishing industry and what that means for printed books. 

You may be wondering how this affects you. The fact is, if you’re writing books and you hope to have them published, you should be doing everything you can to familiarize yourself with all facets of the publishing business.

The advent of e-books has also dramatically affected self-publishing. Now it’s faster, easier, and cheaper – which makes it a tempting alternative to traditional publishing. But is it right for you? See my September 20 post The Rush to Publish.

Questions about this topic? Call me at (505) 401-1021 or send me an email at william@wgreenleaf.com. I’m in my office most weekdays from 9 to 5.

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