Monday, August 30, 2010

eReaders: The Demise of the Printed Book?

For many years people have been predicting that eBooks would one day be the demise of the printed book.  Naysayers pointed to the dismal percentage of the book market eBooks represent.  Amazon recently announced sales of books for the Kindle outnumbered sales of hardcover books. The catalyst of the surge in eBook popularity is the dissemination of the eReader.  The last three years have brought us the Kindle, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader, and iPad, just to name the top eReaders.  Digitimes estimates 7.3 million eReaders have been sold as of Quarter 2 of 2010.  Heretofore, the eBook could only be read on a cumbersome laptop or desktop computer.

The demographics of eBook buyers tell us about the future of the printed book.  According to BISG, eBook buyers are 51% men (compared to 58% women for paper books).  eBook buyers have higher income that paper book buyers.  Among eBook buyers, 11% no longer buy any paper books. 8% buy mostly eBooks, and about 30% prefer to buy eBooks.  This tells me we are far away from the printed book ceasing to exist.  Based on the demographics, as long as we have women and the poor, we will have printed books.

I believe we will continue to see eBooks gain market share.  As more people obtain cell phones with eReader applications, and eReaders become more affordable, eBooks will surpass printed books in the number of units purchased.  According to Wikipedia, the US has 285 million cell phones in use as of December 2009.  My wife recently started reading books on her iPhone and said she doesn’t see why she would ever buy a printed book again.  I believe people who were born digital will migrate toward the surcease of all printed things.  The Baby Boomers will most likely cling to the printed form as a whole.

The role of printed books may change over time.  Instead of being what the majority of book buyers purchase for personal consumption, they may become collectibles to be primarily given as gifts.  In the same way that a collection of the Beatles’ greatest hits is purchased as a keepsake, special edition printed books may become the only printed form necessary.  Time will tell.


  1. "In the same way that a collection of the Beatles’ greatest hits is purchased as a keepsake, special edition printed books may become the only printed form necessary."

    This statement rings true were it not for niche markets.

    There are many niche markets that trend towards the printed book over e-books and such.
    Harry Potter represents the short-term niche marketability of hard bound books, even over paperbacks of lesser cost. Few HP fans would want only e-versions of their books and most prefer hard back.

    Oz represents the longevity of a niche market, especially when MGM elevates Oz into legendary status.

    Oz now counts its age at one hundred and eleven years. New movies are in production and due out in the next two years.

    Oz lives on...

    For those who read, watch and collect Oz, printed books by the original, old and new authors are the preferred medium.

    Check out an Oz Festival sometime and be amazed. Its almost like a Trek Convention.

    James C. Wallace II
    Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma

  2. Great article Todd. It's interesting how quickly this has happened. If they are going to have a shot at getting the premium price points in the future, book publishers are going to have to take packaging to the next level to give readers a reason to seek out the physical book, essentially making it a collector's item, or as you mentioned, "a keepsake."

    I. Vasquetelle

  3. Books are a thing of beauty. They are more solid than banks and often hold treasures more valuable - certainly, more lasting. Their brittle-aged pages are an instant link to other times - the books themselves often having a history as compelling as their content.

    E-books are a modern convenience, much like cell phones and TV remotes. Carrying 40-50 highlighted, annotated books in the palm of your hand is empowering. As a writer, having the ability to search through those 40-50 books, without going page-by-page is a luxury beyond words.

    But, in the end, the convenience of the e-book is best used to create something real - something that will no doubt live to gather dust and become even more treasured as the dust accumulates.


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