Friday, January 14, 2011

The Future: E-book, books, bookstores, libraries, publishing companies, and authors.

by Olivia Uribe

As part of our work, we remain on top of trends and changes in technology and how they affect our culture. The biggest change recently to affect many is that of the Electronic books and online sells. In Santa Barbara, CA in one month the tourist town lost two large bookstores, a Borders and a Barnes and Nobles that almost were kitty corner from each other.

This raises many more questions about the future than it does answers. We wonder what will be of the future of books, of e-books, of bookstores and libraries. What of publishing companies? Will they still be around, will they become more or less important. What about for writers, what will they have to do to get attention and their books, or e-books published?

Future of books and e-books:
E-books are clearly on the rise. The week after the Holidays, USA Today, reported that E-books for the first time outsold print books. Of its list of best sellers, "E-book versions of the top six books outsold the print versions last week. And of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales." While there are a variety of e-book readers and some books are compatible with some others, Google recently launched a "cloud service" to facilitate the purchase and access of books from various vendors and by various e-readers: Google e-bookstore. Of the 3-5 million people with ebook readers, a good question has been raised, "Will the people who got them keep downloading e-books, and at what rate?"

Mashable recently hypothesized on the future of e-books that they will evolve to become adaptive to your uses, whether that be learning, or in a book club. They imagine the e-book will be far more than text and will be video enhanced. They further made a prediction that the pricing of an e-book at $9.99 has a time stamp on it. With the enhancement of the content, will come a complexity of pricing and an evolving up sell business for additional features, chapters, and applications.

Certainly we agree with the big picture of these, which makes sense for how-to books, business, and much of the non-fiction categories of books, but what of fiction books? Do fiction books have the necessity to become high-tech and adaptive? Knowing that human nature is resistant to change, can we assume that our population will be willing to give up the traditional paper books? Certainly it will not be an issue in that books will all be burned, but the possibility exists that the way paperbacks aren't always published after a hard cover release, maybe e-books may precede a paper release, that may or may not come. It is our belief that phasing paper books entirely will take longer than what seems inevitable. That is to say, while we will see the change is in the e-book, the paper books will not be going away as quickly or as easily as some might think.

Future of bookstores:
The writing is on the wall- no pun intended. The days of bookstores are numbered. At the closing Borders, all items, books, audio books etc were marked down to 40% a percentage that makes buying items at a bookstore debatable in relationship to the potential saving of buying items online. 45% would be the magic number of price reduction that books would have to be sold at in bookstores in order for it to still make sense to a customer. Because no bookstore, can survive after a 45% reduction of its profit, bookstores, will not outlive the rise of online sells. It is important to note that what will put bookstores out of business is not the e-book, as much as the market for books and book sales from one person to another, and from sites like, and many more online.

Future of libraries: When the Santa Barbara BORDERS was in its final days, I ran into the City Library Director, Irene Macias. How Perfect! We discussed much of what the future holds altogether for the writing/book industry. She shared with me the beginnings of libraries, regarding their scope and responsibilities, and the evolution of the services provided by the local library in tandem with budgets restrictions, especially as we all continue to brace through this crisis.

She reminded me that the reason libraries first existed, and why they were a function of government, is that their primary responsibility was to distribute information made available to the public by the government. For the regular citizen or an early advocate, s/he would not have awaited legislation to be published in newspapers, they would have to go to the local library that was the sole recipient of the text of all government documents. (Library of Congress ring a bell?) Now with the rise of the internet and change in information, this is clearly no longer its primary purpose.

The library is the hub for people to check out book. Not only do they check out the traditional 2 types of books, hardcover and paperback, Macias shared the changes it went through when they expanded to provide, audio books on tape, and later CD. Now, you can also check out e-books. Who knew? Right?(These e-books from the library are compatible with all readers with the exception of the Kindle and Sony e-readers) Money that has been earmarked for the purchase of books is being used, cleverly to purchase more e-books. Surely with the rise in use of e-readers, customers- any resident of the city or in the library network with a library card can have access to these e-books. The only downside to these, Macias told me, is that "E-books, like physical books can only be checked out by one person at a time even if the digital copy can be used by many."

Macias, shared anticipation and excitement mixed with frustration at the Project Gutenberg, (which was just recently mentioned by the Time Magazine technology blog). Project Gutenberg is a "non-profit enterprise that creates files from public-domain books, then distributes them as widely as possible and for free." The frustration Macias expressed was with copyrights being extended continuously and for longer periods, therefore keeping a book from falling into the public domain.

So, what does the future hold for libraries? Perhaps over a couple of generations, libraries will be dedicated to books in all the alternate forms, and only have a very small selection of hard cover and paperbacks. What is certain is that while bookstores will disappear, libraries won't.

Future of publishing companies:

Of things we have read, we seem to stand alone in believing that publishing companies will become unnecessary and obsolete in the not too distant future. In contrast to us, Mashable predicted that "The real opportunity for publishers will be to develop e-books that offer the kind of interactive features mentioned above". They believe that publishing houses will play an even greater role in an e-book world. Commodity content is everywhere (and largely free), so high-quality vetted, edited content — which takes a staff of experts — will be worth a premium."

The same way in which mobile applications are developed in exponential amounts every day, software, both for profit and open source will be even better develop to self-publish at the level of a publishing company. Because there will be so much information, new books and even more and more niches of readers, the value that publishing companies provided of marketing and distribution will no longer be appealing to writers, especially for the exorbitant price, of what a "large publisher" requires. One possible step toward the end of publishing companies, that will possibly extend their existence as mention by booksquare is for these publishers to be more generous with authors when it comes to sharing a bigger piece of the pie. It is further possible to believe that of publisher companies to survive, will have to be the largest ones, Random House and the like, if only because they have so many more authors and "celebrity" authors as clients and are well known, which means future forms of marketing will be easier for them to lead and stay on top of.

Future for writers:
Writing a book will become easier, yet getting attention will require far more than it has in the past.

If we are in fact correct that publishing companies will become obsolete, then authors will- in conjunction with a team of web developers, social media experts and video developers -have to get together on a case by case basis to develop elaborate marketing materials. Take a look at this book ad that I Chris Brogan shared recently. Certainly this strikes me as the typical paperback $14.99 book but with an upfront cost and time that are far superior to what it had been in the past.

Of course, all writers will have to learn bits and pieces of the various types of media, but without a doubt, those that don't will be the first to "disappear" or fade to the background.

Those are some of our thoughts, knowing what we know now. Anything could change tomorrow and our future could be on a completely different path. What are your thoughts?

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