Some thoughts on the future of the eBook

The Middle East and north Africa aren’t the only places in the world where there are revolutions taking place. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a take-no-prisoners insurgency underway in the publishing industry. It’s called the eBook.

A few months ago I certainly had my doubts about the future of these little electronic slates that had the audacity to call themselves “books.” (Excuse me for personifying them.)

I knew I’d certainly never be comfortable with one. Well, bring me a big fat crow, please. I’ve seen the light. I’ve been saved. I’m a true believer now.

I’m not alone. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve run into a couple of middle-aged folks, who, like me, were given eReaders–one a Nook, the other a Kindle–as Christmas gifts. (Yes, yes. I know. I’m fudging the definition of middle-aged when it comes to myself.)

Anyhow, one was a guy manning the check-out table at an estate sale in my neighborhood. I noticed that besides a 9mm Glock resting on the table next to him there was a Kindle. I asked him how he liked it. (The Kindle, not the Glock.) He went on to explain he had his doubts about it at first, but now has fallen in love with it.

The second person I encountered was an RN in the hospital where my wife had her recent cataract surgery. The nurse noticed me reading my Nook and asked if I was comfortable using it. (See answer above.) Then she told me she’d gotten one for Christmas, too, and had quickly become a convert. (An interesting sidebar: she also mentioned she’d once been a nun in a monastery near Munich. “Seventeen was much too young to make a decision like that,” she explained.)

Apparently Christmas 2010 was a watershed moment for the eBook industry. A literary agent who blogs regularly noted:

We are getting our latest round of royalty statements. All I can say is whoa. Who turned on the ebook sales? In five years, I’ve never seen numbers like I’m seeing from the past 3 or 4 months. Ereaders were THE gift this holiday season is what I’m thinking. About 6 months ago I said the tipping point was near. I think it’s here.

A couple of days ago, I had an email exchange with the president of BelleBooks, the publisher of my forthcoming novel EYEWALL. She noted that 90 percent of their successful sales these days come from the eBook editions of their books. “Not kidding,” she said. “Ninety percent. Probably more like 95 percent. The market has changed that much in just the past two years.”

Conventional wisdom has been that within about three years the total number of eBook sales will equal or exceed the number of conventional books sold.

Given the trends that are occurring, and given that eReaders, like any electronic device, will continue to fall in price and grow more sophisticated, three years probably is conservative.

Two years, do I hear two years? One? Can you buy in at one? Going, going….

Photo: Me and my Nook
Probably I should be writing instead of reading.  But, you know, it’s a new toy and I love reading.  I love writing, too, but I need a break once in a while. (The novel I’m engaged with is a really good thriller, The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson.)

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