Last week at the International Coach Federation conference in Orlando Florida I watched as hundreds of attendees waited in line to have books signed by key-note speakers and conference faculty. Where do you put the author’s autograph on an e-book and does a hand written note from Sarah Palin mean as much in a Kindle as it does in a hardback?
Today I waited in line at Borders to purchase an Eagles DVD. Yes, I could have grabbed a boot-leg copy online but I value Glen, Joe and Don’s music so I was willing to pay them for their art. However, most of the customers in line cradled books. Several in fact. I checked and almost all were being bought as gift. How do you give the latest Pat Conroy novel as e-book? Where does the bow, go?
My wife doesn’t buy books. She borrows them from the library. When publishers convert to e-books will libraries offer digital downloads and if so, how? Will my wife have to take her e-reader to the library to check out the book or will she download it from the library’s web site?
Now, a few comments in response to Michael Hyatt’s pronouncement that the book is dead.
“Consumer expectations are going to skyrocket.” - I agree. The evolving nature of consumer electronics and growing influence of the web drive expectations to dizzying heights. Disposable media, like the newspapers and magazines that end up in the recycle bucket, will migrate to the e-reader platform. Such products are ideal for e-readers. Text books, too.
But fiction and non-fiction books live beyond their publication date. Readers “participate” in a book. They paint their own scenes, adding the furniture of their lives to make the story their own. They pause mid-act to nap, exit the subway or board a plane. With non-fiction they highlight, underline and dog-ear pages for reference. E-books cluttered with hyperlinks, ads, video and sound do not enhance the reading experience. They detract from it.
"The cost of producing digital books will get more expensive." - Yes, hyperlinks, ads, embedded video and streaming audio will probably become part of the publication output of newspapers and magazines. Obviously, this adds to production costs. But consider the browser wars that have plagued the web since its birth. Will publishers spend money to create multiple versions of its product in order to reach all types of e-readers? Or will they pick a winner and hope for the best. Few know the brand of the printing press that publishes the morning paper but with e-publications technology will trump content.
“Digital content creation and distribution will become our primary focus. Physical books will become an afterthought.” - Don’t bet on it. From 1997 to 2001 the World Wide Web went from a fringe concept ( prior to 1996 most companies didn’t even have a web site) to the dominant fixture in our culture. In four years the web revolutionized the media, ( AOL purchased Time Warner ), the recording industry, (Napster provided easy, free and illegal access to music) and the way we get our news and stay in touch. ( You’ve got mail! )
Amazon released their first Kindle in November 19, 2007. Citi analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that Amazon sold 500,000 of its first e-reader. Amazon predicts it will sell 800,000 by the end of this year. In contrast, Sarah Palin's memoir, released this fall, has sold 1 million copies and HarperCollins plans to increase the print run to 2.8 million copies. That’s one book using old technology that doesn't requirea batteries, specialized formatting or training. The e-reader is not a trend. It’s a niche fad pushed with hype and hope. The e-reader may change the way we read periodicals, but not books.
“People will be reading more than ever.” - Yes, and they’ll use e-readers to keep abreast of news, current trends and culture gossip. When it comes time to pick a book for entertainment, though, they’ll choose paper. We always have. Odds are we will for a very long time.
Michael Hyatt is Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book.