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Is the Paperback Era Coming to an End?

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Amazon already sells more eBooks than hardcover books and is predicting that it will sell more digital books than paperbacks by the end of next year. That’s a pretty bold prediction, but not all that surprising considering how easy it is to buy books on so many devices. Is 2011 really going to mark the end of the paperback era?

It certainly seems Amazon’s in a hurry to get out of the physical book business. The cost of importing, warehousing and shipping books is certainly a burden Amazon would rather avoid. As eBooks gain popularity prices will come down. In an interview with Pocketlint, Amazon’s Steve Kessel said:

“All ebooks will cost less than the physical books. Customers believe that electronic books should be cheaper than physical books and we agree.”

So what do you think? Is it time for paperbacks to go the way of newspaper subscriptions? Or do you prefer keeping books on your bookshelf and stacked in the attic?

Xavier Lanier is the publisher of Gotta Be Mobile and a photographer. He uses too many devices to count, but his current favorites are the iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nikon D800 and Sony RX 100M II. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

14 Comments

  1. Bobby Brooks

    07/30/2010 at 4:40 pm

    Just make it sand and water proof.

  2. Steve S

    07/30/2010 at 4:53 pm

    Is the paperback era coming to an end?

    …No.

    Books will always enjoy certain advantages that e-books will not be able to match.

  3. JOE H

    07/30/2010 at 7:20 pm

    False assumption that the price will come down as popularity increases. Popularity increases with mon- or duopolistic market (giving apple or BN a chance) and the price goes UP.

    Paperbacks will still remain strong. The combination of
    1. Bibliophiles
    2. People who can’t afford an ereader
    3. Luddites

    Will keep real books coming strong.

  4. Feralboy

    07/30/2010 at 7:42 pm

    Traditional books are history…the countdown has begun! Yeah, sure, paperbacks have one or two benefits over eBooks, but eBooks have benefits over paperback books, too. What percentage of sales do you think the average paperbound book can lose to its electronic brethren and still be viable? 10%? 20%? 50%? eBooks cost much less to produce, which results in much less risk and potentially, much more profit. A publisher might even decide to sell their eBooks directly, keeping all the profit inhouse. From a business standpoint, whether you like it or not, the end of the paperback is nigh!

  5. Roberto

    07/30/2010 at 8:54 pm

    This sort of reminds me of the many demises of paper that come up from time to time. There will always be a place for physical books, just as there are place now for CD & Vinyl records.

  6. SAM

    07/31/2010 at 9:32 am

    Until the price of eBooks are less than a paper book,
    I don’t think they will overtake paper.

    Also, some publications just read better in a 2 page colour spread.

    Also, when I’m done reading a paper back, I can
    sell it, loan it, or give it away.

    Not so with the eBook format. Also, the publisher/retailer can’t enter my house and just take my
    book back on a whim…

  7. GTaylor

    07/31/2010 at 11:23 am

    In spite of claims to the contrary, there are still scrolls around somewhere. Both for text and graphics. Back in the eighties I was being taught that engineering drawings would disappear in ten years. That minor detail didn’t happen.

    Every power outage, every communication service interruption, and every hard drive failure, will bring the thought of the book on the shelf to mind.

    That said, I want to by permission to own a copy of a book, magazine, drawing, video, music file, lecture, or whatever and receive both the physical object and the e-file. There should be a clearing house online that keeps track of the permissions that I own and allows me to replace lost or corrupted files or download a copy in another format. If Facebook is secure enough for personal information then this is no big deal.

    One big hole in this is that I am not keen on disposable media, junk food for the brain. If it’s that trashy, why bother? Some people don’t want a second peek at something that they put into their brain anymore that they would want a second peek at something that they put into their body. If I take the time to buy something to put into my mind then I need a little refresher now and then to keep it there.

  8. dennisvjames

    07/31/2010 at 11:37 am

    buggy whips

  9. Lex

    07/31/2010 at 12:31 pm

    Claims that e-books are about to take over the world, and that paper books are about to vanish, always seem to assume a whole lot that smells badly of privilege. Not everyone lives in a place where they have access to electricity. Not everyone can afford an e-reader. Not everyone has access to the internet to buy e-books. The majority of people on the planet worry more about where their next meal is coming from than their next book, paper or otherwise. Even in the US there are an awful lot of people who can’t even contemplate purchasing an e-reader or other gadget to read e-books on – the market for second-hand books is still enormous.

    So, no, I find it very unlikely that paper books are about to go the way of the dodo.

    • Alex

      11/18/2010 at 12:09 pm

      Have you checked recent statistics concerning mobile phone usage in the third world? Surprisingly many have them as it is, and more and more people are getting them. They provide easy money transfer, forums and faqs on agriculture, and market places.

      Once you have a phone, you can read public domain books for free. That beats all paper book prices I’ve seen.

      (Before I got my latest phone, I had one with a 2.6 inch screen. The majority of the books that I read that year (maybe 120 out 150) were read on this mobile phone.)

  10. Feralboy

    07/31/2010 at 6:10 pm

    Paperback books that haven’t sold have their covers ripped off and the booksellers throw out the books and return the covers to defray shipping costs. A medium to large bookstore will strip hundreds of books per month. Hardcover books and the trade paperbacks are packed up and shipped back to the distributor or the publisher. Writers have to wait until returns roll in to get royalties. Amazing amount of waste. A totally inefficient business model waiting for something better to come along.

    It’s arrived.

    No, it won’t happen overnight. It will be a gradual, but inevitable process. In countries where they can’t afford books, eBooks will pay for themselves in making thousands of free books available to the populace. In three years, the price of the Amazon Kindle has gone from $379 to $189 — nearly $200 off! Of course, the wifi model is only $139. By the end of this year or early next, I expect readers to be had for $99 (there’s already been one). How far off do you think the $49 eBook reader is? And, if things stay true to form, they’ll be more flexible than today’s readers. No, books will be like another reader’s mention of vinyl — only for the collectors, DJs (book spinners), and luddites (:

    As for lending/reselling — that’s great, but it benefits the customer, not the publisher or the author, and from the publisher’s pov, not being able to resell or lend a book is great news. As for pricing, I believe that when a book comes out in paper, Amazon is selling the eBook for less than the paperback…or will be. As eBook readers infiltrate the country, expect the price of “paperback” eBooks to drop in accordance. My guess is that some instructional tomes and art books and coffee table books will be the last to fall, but make no mistake, they will fall. And we’ll all be carrying around thin, nearly weightless, reading devices with fold-out screen and projectors (for images and viewing textbooks on your wall), that cost less than the average college text, and wondering how those cavemen of the past, clutching their pre-eBooks like they were worth saving, ever got along. Like pre-internet agers, suffering with the limitations of out-of-date printed matter. Hardcovers and paperbacks are a thing for the history eBooks…

  11. Tom

    08/01/2010 at 9:43 am

    There is no way ebooks actually cost as much to produce as paper books. The attempts I’ve seen to justify similar pricing are pained at best. Now whether they end up being priced the same is a different question entirely.

    Status-quo arguments about the feel, look, or smell of paper books are last gasps. The “book” is not the medium (paper, digital, audio) but the information delivered through the medium. Paper is on its way out however gradually. You can do so much less with words on paper and so much more with digital text.

  12. Sharon

    08/02/2010 at 5:49 pm

    They still need to make an eReader I can take in the bathtub before I will give up my paperbacks.

    • Ariel

      11/10/2010 at 1:35 am

      Sharon, you simply put your ereader in a plastic ziploc bag (I use a freezer bag) because they
      are heavier. Make sure it’s closed up and you can read in the bathtub. It can be re-used over and over and over again and recycled when you need a new one and it only costs you about a nickel.

      I do this all the time and have not yet dropped my ereader in the tub nor has it gotten wet. I suppose I am taking a risk, but I do love to read in the bathtub. The only place to get any peace and quiet. :)

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