6 Dec 2011

2011 saw more ebooks sold than hardbacks for the first time

And that’s because ebook readers have become respectable gadgets and are relatively affordable (sort of…).  Amazon and Waterstones reported earlier this year “that ebooks now easily outsell hardbacks in the UK” (Hughes, 2011). Once you’ve scored an e-reader  (Sony Reader, ipad or Kindle) you’re instantly tuned into thousands out-of-print classics at the press of a button via, say, Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive or the Open Content Alliance.

It’s certainly hard to predict what will happen to the printed book in the long run. David Hayden of the Folio Society (cited in Hughes, 2011) reckons that publishing will adapt by producing fewer books that are of much higher quality with regard to utilised materials and individual design effort.

The prevailing perception among many private presses seems to be that readers of all persuasions will more readily adopt e-readers as a matter of practical and cost-efficient choice. Buying hardcopies becomes a retroactive purchase in a sense that they are acquired as collectors’ items. They become objects of art where form seems as important (more so) than content. This trend clearly requires new business models rendering the traditional bookshop a side show. Hardbacks are sold online via mail order. An interesting alternative approach is that adopted by Unbound. Here, would-be authors pitch their books on the company’s website. They will only actually write the book if a sufficient number of would-be readers pledge to buy a copy (ebook or hardcopy). The advantage of this model is that various up-front publishing costs are avoided (Hughes, 2011).

This is the world of recreational consumption in fiction and nonfiction texts. Catapult yourself into the academic library and the story is much simpler in a way. Here, it’s about three things: reduce costs, free-up/increase at-premium library space and adapt to users’ changing information behaviours. In our place, ebooks are rampantly on the increase. Over 1000 titles can be accessed online now. At the same time, hardcopy equivalents are still provided for. However, this may change over time for secondary, non-core texts. So an interesting question at this point is whether ebooks will tip the balance to the detriment of their analogue counterparts at some point in the future…

1 comment:

  1. From today's Irish Times