Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Why Are E-Books Such A Big Deal? Part 1
I've said before here that everyone (including me) has an opinion about where e-publishing is going, but nobody (including me) really knows. The reason is the landscape is changing so fast. One element of human psychology is "presentism," (although I don't think that's exactly the term generally used) but what it means is that only the present is real and so we psychologically assign enormous weight to it -- correctly, for the most part. But it also means we have an easy time believing in gradual change but a very hard time believing in the possibility of sudden and very dramatic change. Hardly anyone foresees catastrophes, and those who do are branded crackpots, although to be fair, they are vastly outnumbered by the genuine crackpots who predict catastrophes all the time and are always wrong. What does that have to do with the future of e-publishing?
E-readership is expanding at a rate which, were it a disease or a climatic shift, would clearly be catastrophic. A study from Bowkers (one of the big names in publishing) which came out this last week drives that home. The study was of e-readership in the United Kingdom. Here are some of the remarkable changes it identified.
Effectively one third of all Brits are now or will soon be e-readers. 31% self-identified themselves as likely to purchase an e-book in the next six months. That's a big number, but what sort of a trend does it represent? The number of adults in the UK who have purchased an e-book has nearly tripled in the seven months from February of 2011 to the information cut-off of the study.
Tablets have become the reader of choice, with Kindle dominating the tablet market, with consumers purchasing well over one million of the eReaders per week from the fourth quarter of last year on. . I suspect the iPad is coming on strong, even though it is not a dedicated eReader.
So where this is going is anybody's guess. One effect has been the explosion of self-publishing. For the first time in history, authors have a nearly unrestricted access to the global marketplace, for better or worse. (One of the gatekeepers standing between authors and readers in the past was the editor, and lots of self-published eBooks would have benefitted from that particular gatekeeper having remained in place.)
Lots of folks will guess wrong about what this means for the future, but the one guess you can be certain is wrong is that this is all just a passing fad and won't have much long-term effect on publishing.
I labeled this entry "Part 1," because I'm sure I'll end up revisiting this subject again.