Book Printing Outlook : E-Readers Equal E-rosion?December 2010 By Erik Cagle
A revolution often starts out with shouting that is too distant to hear, from a group of people too small to be considered significant, and pitted against a status quo too entrenched in tradition to be regarded as vulnerable. But, once the revolution begins to swell, all of the factors that made consideration of such a ludicrous proposition illegitimate are viewed in a different light.
In the world of book publishing, the revolution is represented by the e-reader. Most longtime observers of printing and book publishing scoff at the idea of a wholesale movement away from the printed word. Many of these prognosticators view the e-reader as a complementary technology, which further satiates our thirst for freedom of choice in the way we receive and digest information.
Strictly from a neutral viewpoint, the e-book came into its own during 2010—and in a big way. The high-priced Amazon Kindle and some lesser-known models emerged into the public consciousness in 2009, with technical glitches, title limitations and a niche market share of about 3 percent for consumer book sales.
One year later, a less expensive Kindle is rubbing elbows with the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo and countless others. The market share of consumer book sales has swollen to roughly 9 percent, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), from $89.8 million in January-August sales in 2009 to $263 million for the same period in 2010.
One of the biggest questions heading into 2011: Has the e-reader market peaked, having now been embraced by the most ardent bibliophiles, or is there reason to believe more market share can be cannibalized? Further, whither the future of the educational sector and its possible adoption of e-readers in lieu of textbooks?
On the latter count, obstacles abound for the e-reader. Standardized electronic formats would need to be developed and accepted on a state and/or national level. An economical and highly durable version of the e-reader would need to be developed in order to justify a wholesale change from the printed text. Lastly, a generation of educators would need to embrace such a fundamental change in the educational process.
Not Taking Over Yet
"The book model isn't going to change in the near future, until there's a versatile, fairly sturdy and affordable four-color e-reader that doesn't need software upgrades on a regular basis," observes Peter Tobin, vice president at North Chelmsford, MA-based Courier Corp. The perception for e-readers is great, given the mind share they have garnered within the consumer sect, and Tobin notes that publishers are closely monitoring trends.