I am a follower of a number of Australian independent publishing companies on Twitter. I have noticed lately a new trend amongst their tweets and postings involving e-books. This is a hot Web 2.0 topic in the publishing world, and for good reason. With the development of e-books, traditional books and all publishers come under threat. Whether this threat is justified or not is something I am interested in exploring.
The main players in the plot of the e-book are Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader. While the Reader has been around since September 2006 and Kindle since November 2007 the Kindle is more popular and has seen more success in sales.
Whoever was winning the sales race between Amazon and Sony, I believe it would be safe to say that e-readers and e-books haven’t exactly been a hit on the scale of other toys which make life more portable such as the iPod or iPhone. How many people do you see whipping out their Kindle on the tram? Now compare this to the number of people sporting an iPhone size bulge in their pocket. Perhaps e-readers are just not a necessary accessory. Who wants another gadget to clutter up their hand/man bag when you can buy a book that takes up the same amount of space and costs a lot less?
However, this may be changing. With the evolution of the application ‘Kindle for iPhone’, e-books may have the platform they need to become seriously popular and widely used. I think this technology is what has caused increased interest in e-books. Everyone carries around an iPhone, and if Kindle is now on these iPhones, suddenly e-books are no longer so inaccessible.
If this is the case, if the threat of e-books is justified, who will be affected? To begin with, the small bookstores will easily be the first to go. No one will buy books when you can download them straight to your phone. Jobs, sentimentality and that great bookstore smell will be lost.
Then there are the publishing companies. If books aren’t being sold, books will not need to be made and traditional publishing will become obsolete. Publishing companies will need to move with the times to survive. With traditional publishing on the downward slope, self-publishing is climbing the ladder. Sony’s latest move is to partner with self-publishing companies, allowing authors to publish their own work in Sony’s e-book Store. I can’t help but harbour scepticism towards this. To me, it seems to devalue the art of writing.
Speaking of devaluing sacred arts lets think about the reality of e-books. Snuggling up on the couch with your iPhone or Kindle is not quite the same as with a tattered copy of The Great Gatsby. Could that impressive collection of classics on your bookshelf really be replaced by an invisible collection stored inside your phone or laptop? I am capable of sitting for hours on end and reading a book. I am definitely not capable of sitting for hours and staring at my computer screen. Gone will be the days of describing a great book as “a real page turner”.
I’m not a fan of the idea, and personally I will never believe that the traditional book will be lost or overtaken (call me old fashioned). However, I can see this is a real issue facing Web 2.0, publishing and all book lovers. Perhaps there is a market for e-readers. This is possible, but it is a completely different market to the one that holds traditional books. The two may coexist in the future, but I can’t see e-readers being the sole provider of the written word any time soon.