Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Will Ebooks Ever Overtake Print Books in Sales?

Three years ago, Steve Haber, Sony's president of its digital reading division, predicted that within 10 years digital books would surpass print books in sales. According to a recent article in the Telegraph, Haber has changed his prediction to only five years.

Whether he meant five years from now or five years from three years ago, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing he meant five years from now.

That means today.

In other words, by the year 2015 more books will be sold in digital form than in print form.

That sounds amazing. It almost sounds science-fictionish. To the scoffers, it sounds absurd.

But why not? Digital music poked around for about a decade, but then in a matter of a year or two it took off like crazy. You can hardly find CDs even in a Walmart nowadays, and don't even try to look for music cassettes except at a yard sale.

Much the same has happened with movie. Hollywood tried to keep its hold on digital viewing through DVDs for about a decade, but over the last half dozen years movies have become more and more available online and in other electronic formats. Television is going the same route. It's even possible to imagine a day within a decade or so when cable television could be a thing of the past, replaced by websites where one can download their favorite shows or possibly wait through a brief buffering to watch the shows directly online. Hulu.com and YouTube are already leading the pack.

So why not books, too?

Sure, there are a number of hardcore readers who will always want a printed version of their favorite books, but those numbers are relatively small compared to a much larger, broader and more casual reading audience. And yes, plenty of folks can currently gripe about the prices of e-readers being too expensive, especially with Amazon's Kindle, the current e-reader leading the pack, selling for $259; but that $259 is cheaper than what the Kindle was going for a couple of years ago when it was first introduced, and eventually the prices of e-readers will only get cheaper and cheaper.

Imagine an e-reader selling for $99. Then imagine being able to download your favorite author's brand new novel for $10 or possibly less. It could happen. And when it does, the digital reading market will take off even more than it already has.

It's true not everyone will go out and buy an e-reader, but most consumers will purchase a computer if they don't already have one, and plenty of people are willing to read on their computer.

The prices of ebooks are also a concern, what with publishers and Amazon and other online venues always seeming to argue over the costs of the ebooks and with many readers complaining about the prices. But eventually that will work itself out and the market will settle down. Eventually publishers and digital distributors will stumble upon a model that pleases the readers while also making them money.

It's going to happen.

When? I won't make a prediction. But Steve Haber's prediction doesn't sound too far fetched to me.

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