And the ebooks will inherit the Earth?

So last week, whenever I got back to my hotel room from working on Mum’s stuff, I logged onto one LinkedIn writing group and participated in a debate over ebooks.
The debate had started with one writer’s glum prediction that we wouldn’t even have libraries in five years as everything went ebook, and that’s something I don’t believe for a minute. Even if ebooks do kill off print publishing, unless libraries replace all their copies with ebooks (and I don’t think the money is there) and used book stores go out of business, books are not going to disappear. Hell, laser-discs are still around, and they never had the market penetration of hard-copy books (or even the VCR).
But in the ongoing debate, I began thinking about the challenges of making predictions about something like this (which I also discussed here).
•Skeptics are often wrong. Hollywood didn’t think TV would become the popular force that it is today. Nobody saw the way cable TV would grow and become so successful either. So maybe in doubting the inevitable triumph of ebooks, I’m kidding myself.
•True believers are wrong too. For all the hype high-definition television gets and predictions how the public would embrace it, my reading for various eHow articles has made me aware that the majority of TV buyers only buy HD sets because that’s all that’s available now.
Likewise, the food industry (and some columnists) have been predicting the death of cooking (frozen/dehydrated/microwavable foods are so much more convenient and scientific!) since the late forties (as detailed in the book Something From the Oven). It hasn’t happened yet.
•Timing is unpredictable. I don’t believe for a minute that print books will be gone in my lifetime, but I may be wrong. Or it might take much, much longer than any of us think, if it happens at all.
•People are unpredictable. The success of ebooks to date may indicate that they’ll end up taking 100 percent, or 90 percent of the market—but maybe not. Maybe it stops at 75 percent, or 40 or 30. Yes, they take up less space than print books, but is that the determining factor? Most opinions I’ve seen (including mine) amount to little more than personal taste.
•Our own viewpoint warps our perceptions. One “ebooks rule!” guy assured me that he never sees anyone in libraries (except at the computers) or bookstores; I see lots. Another commenter said he knows a teenager who says he’ll never read a print book by choice; others wrote in with stories of kids who love to read.
The plural of anecdote is “data” but singular “I knew a person” anecdotes aren’t even that.
•Outside forces play a role. “Well, nobody reads print books any more” could be an excuse for city governments to shut up libraries and save money, whether or not it’s true. Or if Amazon could convince publishers that print is a money-loser and they should switch to ebooks ASAP, that would change things big-time (I’m sure Jeff Bezos would love to kill off bricks-and-mortar stores for good).
•Technical changes play a role too. The few ebooks I’ve bought are those I could download to my laptop as PDFs or save from Gutenberg in Word. I can’t look at spending $80 on a Kindle as anything but a waste (for me—no disrespect intended to those who do), but I already have a laptop (though as long as they’re priced comparable to paperbacks, I’ll probably stick with paperbacks).
•Piracy. Techdirt says that despite Internet piracy, book publishing revenues are growing. I’m not so sure if that’s true for authors, though: If I lose 150 ebook sales to piracy, that might be inconsequential to my publisher’s bottom line, but it’s quite a big deal for me (though I still think SOPA is a bad idea).
In short, I’m not sure how much impact ebooks will have and how it will work out in the long run. But I don’t think anyone else does either.


Filed under Personal, Writing

2 responses to “And the ebooks will inherit the Earth?

  1. Pingback: Writing links | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Writing-related links (mostly) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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