Ebook revolution well under way

Oxford English DictionaryExactly a year ago, I wrote about how ebooks are the future. Today I read that the Oxford English Dictionary, the mighty volumes that record our very language itself, will only be available online. You can read a bit about that here.

Now, I’m a speculative fiction writer. I love science fiction. I’ve said this before – my iPhone does way more than Captain Kirk’s communicator could ever do. The iPad is suspiciously like Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s PADD (Personal Access Display Device). Incidentally, check out the gibberish on the PADD screen in the picture below. Are we really surprised that things like a multi-volume behemoth are crumbling under the weight of online use? We can’t have the future and the past together. That’d be some weird time twister where everyone’s confused.

Star Trek PADDAs a writer, I often use a dictionary to check words. You know which one I use most? www.dictionary.com. I have a beautiful printed dictionary, in fact I have a few, but I rarely use them. If I’m not at my computer, I use the dictionary.com app on my iPhone. It’s easy and it’s good for the planet. You can hear the trees breathing a sigh of relief.

But you may also remember me gushing about how much I love Angela Slatter’s new book. Not just because it’s awesome storytelling, but because the physical book is just a beautiful thing to hold and behold. It was limited to 300 copies. Here’s a relevant quote from my previous post a year ago, that I linked at the start of this one:

But hereโ€™s my prediction โ€“ 99% of the books of the future will be either electronic or Print-On-Demand. Within twenty years or so traditional off-set print runs will be used exclusively for high-end collectors edition books.

I know – quoting myself. What a wanker. But you get my point. We have to accept that these things are happening and we have to accept that it’s not a bad development. I heard a statistic on the radio today that by the end of next year, one in ten books bought will be ebooks. Ten per cent of market share. That’s a lot for a new technology. It’s already around the three to five per cent mark. But literacy rates are expected to go up as well, as more people will have access to more reading options more often.

That 20 year estimate in my quote above could be grossly inaccurate. It might all happen far quicker than that. It’s the future people. Embrace it. Real books aren’t going anywhere, because too many of us love them. But the face of reading is changing just like the nature of book buying and book publishing is changing. Don’t be scared – it’s all really quite exciting.

EDIT – There’s been a fair amount of chatter about this post on Twitter and other places and one of the things that keeps getting mentioned again and again is, more or less, “I just hate reading from a screen, simple as that.”

Well, it’s worth noting that ebook readers are evolving rapidly too. Already the Kindle and other e-ink devices are replicating the printed page very well. Screens will soon be so advanced that they’re just like a printed page. And isn’t that deliciously ironic. Accept it – we already live in a digital future. The Schwarzschild radius has long since passed.

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15 thoughts on “Ebook revolution well under way

  1. I like the way you put it: “Don’t be scared – it’s all really quite exciting.”

    And, it is exciting. If you don’t like the feel of the ebook devices today, you will. The mechanical device we are calling an e-reader will improve and evolve. Who knows, clever designers may make it “feel” beautiful, too, — and, remember, surely a part of the wonderful feel of traditional books is in the eye of the reader who has learned and enjoyed so much from books.

    Second, and most importantly for some of us, ebooks open a new world in terms of spreading knowledge and cultures, a new world that will be as surprising, exciting and liberating as the internet itself has been.

    So, I join with you, Alan Baxter, in hoping people find an ebook and dive in.

    ..Lois Shawver

  2. Thanks Lois.

    It’s worth mentioning the evolution of ebook readers… In fact, I’m going to add an edit to this post.

  3. Screens aren’t like the old computer screens anymore. My mother was hesitant-she hates computers and gizmos. After a few days with the iPad, she loves it. Screens and devices continue improving. Could be less than 20 years.

  4. I have three e-book readers on my iPhone and they all work well. I’m not so fussed on what I’ve seen of the Kindle and iPad but, as noted, things will improve.

    I’m hoping (against hope) that this will result in a revolution in small press (esp as Pages – Apple’s word processing program – allows exporting into e-pub format.)

  5. Absolutely – I use Stanza, Kindle and iBook apps on my iPhone for reading. I do love the gimzo gadgetry of the iPad, but I don’t need one enough to justify the expense right now. But I’m sure I’ll end up with one eventually. I love using my iPhone to read because it’s always in my pocket, so I always have loads of books with me.

  6. I always said that I would never use an ereader, as I loved look and feel of physical books too much, but then I got my iPhone and iPad and I read more than what I did before. I still purchase printed books but they are all hardcovers now and go straight on the bookshelf. It is so easy now to get a new book to read, simply open amazon kindle app and I have a new book in front of me in 2 mins. The night reading function also means I can read in bed next to the wife and can have the lights off, everyone wins!!

  7. You’re right – everyone wins. This is the key point. We may be losing some aspects of the publishing models of the past, but overall we’re all gaining.

  8. I’ve seen some of the new ‘non-screeny’ screens floating about on the train and they look great. I’d love to get one and start loading it up, but there are a few bugbears that I’m yet to resolve:

    1. I’m confused about all the different formats and required ‘readers’ (Largely my own fault – I haven’t spent too long looking into them). Why can’t we all just get along? At least I know if I buy a book from Angus & Robertsons and another from Borders, or books from two different publishers that have deals with one store and not the other I’ll be able to a) Read them both and b) use the same bookmark in both without them siezing up on me.

    2. I have a real problem with having to fork out again for all those much-loved books (and there are a lot of them) that I read over and over again. I have the same issue with iTunes and all the audio books I have at home.

    3. I love my books, and I get the nervous sweats at the prospect of dropping my entire library in the toilet by accident. Also, there’s supposedly a huge solar flare due in the next couple of years that’ll wipe out a bunch of electronic stuff. I do however like the idea of being able to save my entire library in case of house fire.

  9. 1. Formats are slowly standardising. Also, I have three apps on my iPhone and can read pretty much every format out there that way. It won’t be long before we get format convergence. Market forces will make it happen – VHS/Betmax, HD-DVD/Blu-Ray, etc.

    2. You mean to buy them again digitally? Why bother if you already have the hard copy?

    3. Oh noes, it’s 2012, the end of the world! It won’t take out everything. Most of us probably won’t even notice. Also, backup on stable devices like CDs to be extra sure.

  10. 1. That’s pretty much what I’m waiting for.
    2. I don’t want to bother buying them again, but if I’m going to have my entire library in my pocket, I want all my old favourites as well. I still have a good 30-40 audio books on cassette that I refuse to buy again in another format but don’t have the equipment to convert myself.
    3. Ok you out-nerded me on that one. I still don’t want to drop it in the toilet. Mind you, I don’t want to drop a book in the toilet either. Or anything else for that matter.

  11. Even though I work with technology I’ve been against eReaders for some time. I guess I just like the old fashioned feel of a ‘real book’, and have never liked reading things off a computer screen. However, seeing one of the new Amazon Kindle devices has really changed my mind, and decided to get one.

    Initial thoughts – the screen is as least as good as a book of the same size (I read a lot of technical books, which are generally larger form factor and not as good on a small screen). The size and weight is amazing, particularly if you travel a lot. The ease with which you can buy new books is also fantastic.

    What I really like however, is the way that this format enables new authors to publish their work at a very reasonable price without having to pay a large cut to publishers. The first book I bought was Realmshift – cost ยฃ7.99 in print format, and 71p in electronic format. This enables a new author to compete with established authors, and also lets readers take a risk on a new author without having to pay a premium for doing so.

    My advice to anyone worried about the readability of the screen is to borrow one of the new devices and have a play. I can almost guarantee you will be hooked…and did I mention you can get Alan Baxter’s first book for just 71p? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. I think the e-ink readers are really changing a lot of people’s minds. The technology is quickly catching up with peoples’ expectations.

    As for RealmShift for 71p, I just checked and you’re right! My publisher was running a promotion with RealmShift for 0.99c US, which must translate to around 71p. Get in while you can! Thanks James.

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