E-books are now the preferred choice of book buyers. This conversion from print to digital is changing the business models of the book publisher and of the book retailer. And, dare I say, the authors must change with them.
Just this week book retailer Barnes & Noble sold more e-books than printed books. In fact, people bought or downloaded nearly 1 million e-books from Barnes and Noble on Christmas Day 2010. It is interesting to note that Barnes & Noble reports a 20% e-book market share; however, the company reported a loss in the quarter ending Oct. 30, 2010.
This story actually speaks to two mega trends in the book world. One, e-books sell for less which means that total book sales are decreasing; 2009 book sales were down 5% depending on which category of book that you count. The true book numbers are hard to determine but the general consensus is that the downward trend for book sales continued in 2010, while e-book sales grew in the double digit range.
The second and bigger trend may actually be that fewer and fewer people read books. Steve Jobs recently complained that, “40% of people in the US don’t read books anymore.” Instead, many of them read blogs, watch video, or scan e-newspapers. Book makers also report that more than half of the books that get bought don’t get read. This may explain the fast growing used book market on Amazon.
There is an argument that online content, whether it is text or is video, does provide a superior delivery system than the printed page and that we are just witnessing a shift in how people read. That may be true but our new online and e-book reading culture seems to have the attention span of a gnat. So what is the big deal if we stop reading the printed page? What if we skip the classics and replace it with a video on YouTube?
The jury is out and we don’t know the real impact of this overall shift. While I lean toward the argument that we are just moving to a superior delivery mechanism for literature and non-fiction, a new study from the University of Michigan suggests that the average level of empathy for Americans has dropped significantly. In fact, 75 percent of today’s students have less empathy than students 30 years ago. The researchers suggest that there exists a correlation with reading books. While that may sound like a bit of a theoretical reach, I also sense callousness in our culture that did not exist a few years ago. Could it be that we now read less and, thus, we care less about how others feel?
Let me conclude that books have been a constant companion in my life and a primary tool for continued learning. Yet, as I write this blog I have authorized my publisher to create e-book versions for both my two previous books. My customer has changed and so must I.
John Bradley Jackson
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