August 21st, 2014

E-books Will Replace Paper Books

I am convinced that paper books will soon become rarities. They will not disappear, but they will become specialty items like expensive coffee table books are today.

Why? As usual, most of it is economics. E-books are inherently cheaper than paper books. E-book manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping costs are negligible. Selling an e-book from a web site is much cheaper than acquiring and staffing a physical store.

And consider the trends. Notice that retail cloud-storage vendors have been offering more free storage lately? Electronic storage prices are declining, not rising. Paper book publishers must cringe at this because storage costs for physical books are not decreasing. The prices of paper for printing and diesel fuel for shipping are not going down.

Consequently, economics is squeezing paper book publishers harder and harder to offer value comparable to e-books.

Ten years ago, I read e-books on a tiny PDA. Not the greatest reading experience, but I was crossing the country several times a month and carrying even an extra paperback made dashing through JFK that much more painful. But I could carry a half a dozen books on the PDA I had to carry anyway. And it was so nice to be able to order a new book from my hotel room and start reading within minutes. The alternative was grabbing an over-priced airport book that I didn’t really care to read or taking hours and an expensive taxi to a bookstore, when all I wanted was a half hour of good reading and sleep.

In those days, folks told me that they could never read anything but a good old paper book. No amount of convenience could replace the feel, smell, and ambiance of paper. You don’t hear that much anymore. People have gotten used to reading electronically. They still like paper, but they realize that e-books are cheaper and have some advantages. Now you hear that e-books are more portable, easier to read in bed, lighter in the hand, and, best of all, old fogies can up the magnification instead of reaching for reading glasses.

Reading appliances are improving all the time. Development labs are staying up late working on features to make readers more attractive. We may soon see readers that are flexible enough to fold up and carry in your back pocket. Images will be clearer, more interactive. Paging will be quicker and page flipping easier. There is even talk of an electronic reader with pages like a paper book.

Are paper books going away? Probably not, but economic forces will ensure that most new books will be e-books; new paper books will become rare. E-books will continue to become more convenient and easier to read.

As e-books become more common, other elements of book culture will change too. They are already. That is for another blog.

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