Predictions of E-Books And Reading Verified?

Just something quick today; I mean written quickly. Typo alert!

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published “Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books“, in which are various observations that appear to verify some predictions we made about the future of reading and e-books. If not verified, then pointing the way towards verification.

  • Prediction 1: fewer books. “Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America’s top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.”

    Publishers make an average $14 from selling a hardcover book, but only $9 for each e-book. The obvious math is that published will have to sell 55% more copies of a title just to make what they have been making. That is an astonishing increase. Couple this to prediction 2 (next), and we can be nearly sure that the only publishers that survive will be specialty presses and one or two “mega” press that pumps out books that are better left unread.

  • Prediction 2: less reading. “The lower revenue from e-books comes amidst a decline in book sales that was already under way. The seemingly endless entertainment choices created by the Web have eaten into the time people spend reading books.”

    Anecdotal, sure. We can note that the author chose to categorize books as “entertainment.” We might even prefix the term “ephemeral.” This classification is undoubtedly true for most books. Big “name” authors such as—as he calls him—the “celebrated” Jonathan Franzen still do well with e-books, but only because they are already a “brand.” New writers are having a tough time finding publishers.

    In this case, less reading would be a good thing. Anybody that skips reading Franzen is doing himself a favor. Read B.R. Myers’s evisceration of Franzen’s latest in the Atlantic for why this is so.

  • Prediction 3: only scholars will read. If “consumers” aren’t consuming ephemeral entertainment in the form of serial words linked in sentences and paragraphs, non-“consumers” still will. William Germano writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education said, “I’m struck by the fact that the designation ‘scholarly book,’ to name one relevant category, is in itself a back formation, like ‘acoustic guitar.’ Books began as works of great seriousness, mapping out the religious and legal dimensions of culture. In a sense, books were always scholarly. Who could produce them but serious people? Who had the linguistic training to decode them?”

    I would only substitute “patience” for “linguistic training.” Books will return to their beginnings, as works of (at least intended) seriousness. This does not preclude novels, of course. But “genre” writing will wane as the readers of these works age and die off, not to be replaced by the iPod fiddling young people coming after them.

  • Prediction 4: fewer writers; this is a corollary to Prediction 2. Since publishers are selling fewer books, and the books they are selling they are selling for less money, they haven’t the funds to pay authors large advances, advances which in any case the author would have a difficult time making up. Thus, publishers are paying less for a books.

    One “author received only a $1,000 advance, typical of the advances paid by small independents. ‘I can’t make a living as a writer, but it feels great to have these stories out in the world,’ says Mr. Lea. The author, who lives in Vermont, builds electric guitars and writes on the side. Jonathan Rabinowitz, publisher of Turtle Point Press, says ‘Wild Punch’ has sold about 1,500 copies, including 150 e-books. He described the performance as ‘encouraging.'”

    This situation hurts agents, too. “The smaller advance has a ripple effect. Ms. Daniels, who earns a 15% commission, used to make $11,250 on a big publisher advance of $75,000 or so. Her cut on Mr. Lea’s $1,000: $150.” This can only lead to fewer agents, which of course will lead to fewer authors still.

    The authors that are still selling, even in e-books, are those that are already known. These few authors skew the statistics (they make the mean a less meaningful term; get it?). Of course, it follows that as these authors lose readers, or when they die off themselves, there will be nobody behind them to fill their pages.

  • Prediction 5: paper books will not disappear. The Chronicle has an odd story of a man who is chopping his books to pieces and then scanning the pages into his computer. I wonder that he did not worry about changing technology.

    Scan your books today into, say, PDF, and ten years from now when the PDF format is no more, your books are gone or have to be changed. Anybody with any experience in coding will know that this must lead to the destruction, or other loss, of many files, i.e. books.

    Print on demand will ensure that physical books, read mostly by scholars, will continue to exist.


  1. Speed

    The popular press continues to find the normal product life cycle newsworthy.

    Maturity Stage:
    1.costs are lowered as a result of production volumes increasing and experience curve effects
    2.sales volume peaks and market saturation is reached
    3.increase in competitors entering the market
    4.prices tend to drop due to the proliferation of competing products
    5.brand differentiation and feature diversification is emphasized to maintain or increase market share
    6.Industrial profits go down

    Saturation and Decline Stage:
    1.costs become counter-optimal
    2.sales volume decline or stabilize
    3.prices, profitability diminish
    4.profit becomes more a challenge of production/distribution efficiency than increased sales

  2. Danny Bloom

    The Death of the Book has Been Greatly Exaggerated

    by Mims

    Why are tech pundits so eager to announce that the Ebook is taking over?

    Tech pundits recently moved up the date for the death of the book, to
    sometime around 2015, inspired largely by the rapid adoption of the
    iPad and the success of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. But in their rush to
    christen a new era of media consumption, have the pundits overreached?

    I’m calling the peak of inflated expectations now. Get ready for the
    next phase of the hype cycle – the trough of disillusionment.

    The signs of a hype bubble are all around us. Mostly in the form of
    irrational exuberance.

    In Clearwater, Florida, the principle of the local high school
    recently replaced all his students’ textbooks with latest-gen Kindles
    – without, apparently, any awareness that formal trials of the Kindle
    as a textbook replacement led universities like Princeton and Arizona
    State University to reject it as inadequate.

    Then you have pundits like Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media
    Lab, making statements to the effect that the physical book is dead in
    5 years. This is the kind of statement that, to be fair, has either
    been taken out of context or is demonstrably untrue, in as much as any
    prediction can be proved false before the future arrives.

    Here’s the reality this kind of hype is up against: back of the
    envelope calculations suggest that ebooks are only six pecent of the
    total market for new books.

    How can that be possible, when Amazon recently said that ebooks are
    outselling hard-cover books at Easy: Amazon is only 19
    percent of the total book market. Also, Amazon has something like 90
    percent of the world’s ebook market.

    It’s facts like these that led one blogger to ask whether or not
    Amazon is “lying” about eBooks outselling printed books. Amazon isn’t
    lying, of course, but its announcement that ebooks are outselling hard
    cover tomes was just the flashpoint pundits needed to trot out their
    own bottled-up desires.

    Many tech pundit wants books to die. Really. Here’s Bill Hill, who led
    the team that developed ClearType at Microsoft, a technology for
    rendering text as smoothly as possible on LCD screens:

    The iPad, with a crisp, bright high-resolution screen capable of
    handling color and video, yet with acceptable battery life, has moved
    us out of the Dark Ages. It’s the first eBook device I’ve seen that
    really feels like it’s changed the world. I vastly prefer it to paper.

    Hill is a former journalist, so you’d think he’d have a certain
    fondness for physical books, but no.

    I’ve reached the point where I’d be glad to ditch thousands of paper-
    and hard-backed books from my bookshelves. I’d rather have them all on
    an iPad.

    The backlash against ebooks by those who aren’t so in love with
    technology for its own sake has yet to begin, but it’s coming. Ebooks
    are adequate for reading novels, but the makers of the Kno, (in)famous
    for being the world’s most gigantic ebook, believe that their
    technology is the only way to replace the specialized class of books
    we rely on for our education — textbooks. If they’re right, the
    experiment in Clearwater, Florida is bound to run into problems.

    And as for the death-by-2015 predictions of Negroponte, it’s just as
    likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption
    of ebooks will slow. The reason is simple: unlike the move from CDs to
    MP3s, there is no easy way to convert our existing stock of books to
    e-readers. And unlike the move from records and tapes to CDs, it’s not
    immediately clear that an ebook is in all respects better than what it

    So the world is left with an unconvertible stock of used books that is
    vast. If the bustling, recession-inspired trade in used books tells us
    anything, it’s that old books hold value for readers in a way that not
    even movies and music do. That’s value that no ebook reader can

    In fact, it remains to be seen whether legions of readers raised on
    99c titles at their local used bookstore (or $4.00-$5.00 titles
    delivered via will be so eager to start buying brand new
    books at $10 a pop. And then there’s libraries–who gets left behind
    when owning an ebook reader, and not merely literacy, is a requirement
    to borrow a book.

    What’s more, having learned their lessons from other industries a
    little too well, publishers have largely made it impossible, or at
    least difficult, to loan, trade or re-sell ebooks, for fear of piracy.
    Paradoxically, this could have the eventual effect of lowering
    customers’ willingness to buy new books – because there’s no chance
    they’ll ever recoup a portion of the cost by selling or sharing the

    Finally, and most importantly, as a delivery mechanism, Ebooks are
    nothing like music or even movies and television, and the transitions
    seen in those media simply don’t apply to the transition to electronic

    Books have a kind of usability that, for most people, isn’t about to
    be trumped by bourgeoisie concerns about portability: They are the
    only auto-playing, backwards-compatible to the dawn of the English
    language, entirely self-contained medium we have left.

  3. Luis Dias

    The only thing that has been “verified” is the hypothesis that there are more people that think the same as mr. Briggs. Last time I checked, “verification” requires empirical evidence. And for a long trend such as the one that is being claimed, one, three years since the arrival of still expensive e-reader devices is *not* enough to make a skilled *verification*.

    Just sayin.

  4. Danny Bloom


    : News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and …

    It’s ‘Jisui’ War’! — Digitizing books into e-books stirs the copyright
    pot in Japan,

    by Danny Bloom.

    By a TeleRead Contributor.

    It’s called “Jisui”, and it means “cooking your own meals.” As the
    digital age grows more and …

    It’s ‘Jisui’ War’! — Digitizing books into e-books stirs the
    >>> copyright pot in Japan
    >>> It’s called ‘jisui’ and it means ‘cooking your own meals’
    >>> by Danny Bloom
    >>> TOKYO — As the digital age grows more and more complicated, in terms
    >>> of copyright law and copyright theft, some Japanese companies are
    >>> “cooking their own meals” in a way that
    >>> some book publishers can’t quite digest. A few enterprising firms are
    >>> setting up shop to digitize selected paper books into e-books for
    >>> individual customers. But lawyers for the
    >>> Japan Book Publishers Association (JBPA) say the practice violates
    >>> Japanese Copyright Law. Oops.This is how it happens, according to a
    >>> recent report in the Japanese-langauge Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. The
    >>> firms remove the spines of books, scan the pages for transfer to
    >>> e-readers and the money is coming in. A new business blueprint is
    >>> born. In Japanesee, the practice cis alled “jisui” “(cooking your own
    >>> meals”).
    >>> It is legal for Japanese to digitize their own books for their own
    >>> use, according to sources, but to do it for paying customers is a
    >>> violation of the Copyright Law of Japan.
    >>> In order to get out of the tight corner they find themselves in, and
    >>> cook the meals properly, the half-dozen companies providing the
    >>> “jisui” service argue they are not digitizing books for commercial
    >>> use.
    >>> Reproduction of books for private use is allowed under the Copyright
    >>> Law of Japan, but not for other people’s use, especially paying
    >>> customers. And there’s the rub.
    >>> According to the Yomiuri, which has a circulation of 10 million
    >>> readers in a country of 125 million people, there are more than 10
    >>> companies currently taking orders for digitizing books, which is
    >>> labor-intensive and time-consuming. The companies charge from several
    >>> tens of yen to several hundreds of yen per book. It’s not small
    >>> change.
    >>> The jisui process is simple: After digitizing a book, the jisui firms
    >>> return the data to customers on a DVD or via the Internet, and clients
    >>> then transfer the data to an e-reader. Done deal. Everyone’s happy.
    >>> Except
    >>> the JBPA.
    >>> The new business idea is catching on, too. One company that started
    >>> digitizing books in July received orders for 10,000 books in August,
    >>> and the number is likely to reach 15,000 in in October.
    >>> “[The operation of this business] might be in a gray zone in terms of
    >>> copyright violation,” the company’s PR office told a Yomiuri reporter
    >>> last week. “But we think there’s no problem regarding copyrights since
    >>> we just do this on behalf of individuals.”
    >>> The JBPA does not plan to take all this sitting down. First up is a
    >>> plan to issue a warning against such business practives. Any
    >>> reproduction other than copying books for private use will be
    >>> considered illegal, the JBPA insists.
    >>> So what does Japan’s legal community think of all “jisui” business.
    >>> One lawyer who specializes in Japanese copyright law is of the opinion
    >>> that “while reproduction for private use can be carried out by the
    >>> individual who will use the e-book, it is not legal for a third party
    >>> to do it for payment.” Case closed? Hardly. This is just the
    >>> beginning of the “jisui wars” set to rock Tokyo’s publishing
    >>> juggernaut in coming years.

  5. JH

    I read somewhere that Amazon sells more ebooks than hardcover books. Who knows? Maybe Amazon will get into publishing business in the future.

  6. Bernie

    On the business principle that uncertainty reduces actions/decisons, will simply the emergent possibility of ebooks replacing hardcopy books reduce the purchasing of books? Or will book sales go up in anticipation that the supply will be reduced – as apparently is the case with incadescent bulbs in Europe?

    To put it more crassly, do we short book publishers?

  7. Ken

    This dreary outlook may be somewhat true, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a silver lining or two overlooked.

    This shift from paper to electronic media appears to have parallels with the music recording industry in the mid-70s during the then “oil crisis.” When oil got more pricey, so did vinyl records…and the one-hit-wonders sold via 45’s largely disappeared along with the prospective artists that tried to “make it big.” Most never did, but many of their tunes remain. But…we still got a lot of new music & bands over the years.

    The film industry sees lower revenue from lower movie attendance, but gains revenue from DVD sales of the movies.

    E-books may increase, and being less costly and easier to obtain will lead some to read more: one can impulse shop on-line & instantly download a Kindle book where, in the past, they’d put the purchase on hold next time they went out to the store, by which time most of us would forget or lose the impulse. Chances are e-book sharing, just like paper book sharing, will increase — especially if the means to easily extract passages (copy-paste-& e-mail) is provided.

    Given that nowadays people are texting at times when, in the not so distant past no other alternative was really available (other than reading the paper or a book one brought) there’s a good chance more people will be reading more books.

    Of course, the content & choices made available is another matter……

  8. Ken

    I wonder if Amazon could provided sales statistics for the types of books being sold in paper vs. e-book form. Perhaps there are categories in which the availability of the e-book is offsetting a general downward trend in a given category.

    I’d bet that reference book sales reflect a very low proportion of e-versions (high proportion of paper sales), business books skewing that way, etc. with the biggest shift toward e-books being sci-fi, romance, and other fiction. On the other hand, some reference books may increase if good searchable features are provided to make finding info easier & faster.

    Put another way, the higher the intellectual content & intellectual effort required to read & comprehend/appreciate the work, the more likely it will be sold via paper [goes this hypothesis]. Reason: paper lends itself to marking & referencing & sharing in ways e-media do not (at least not yet).

    Guttenberg on-line ( ) with its (FREE! due the the expiration of copyright laws) e-books, mostly of old classics might also provide download data that can be compared with paper sales trends of the same work.

    There’s probably a lot of data already collected from which current trends can be quantified.

    Ultimately, I find it doubtful that people are willing to amass a major book collection, especially if it consists of classics & references, that they could lose in an instant from theft, etc.

  9. Tim

    I read a lot. Much more than most people do. And I reread if I like the book — and friends who boast about seeing a particular movie 6 times ask why I reread when I already know the ending.

    I have bought 2 e-readers (both the same model, although the 2nd was cheaper and does not work as well as I recall the 1st working), because my girlfriend’s dog jumped on the 1st one and broke the screen. (My kitten would never have damaged it.)

    Although there are problems with displaying technical material, I love having all my textbooks with me all the time. I can have a full technical library in my pocket.

    The e-reader I bought has about 20 books preloaded (12 I have never read). And out-of-copyright ebooks are available on the web. I am sure there are brilliant novels yet to be written, but I also think I do not have the years left to read all the brilliant novels that have previously been published.
    I doubt I would have spent the $20 to buy “Crime and Punishment” in print. But it came in my e-reader and I am enjoying it.
    And I think am more likely to look for other novels in the past 200 years than to spend money on a new author.

    So I think e-readers will reduce book sales and authors, but without any change in how much I read. I expect to reduce my book spend by a huge amount while still reading as much as I do now.
    (On the other hand I have bought 2 e-readers in 8 months, which is similar to what I previously spent on print books.)

  10. Speed

    Re: Technical Publications, one data point.

    The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 91st edition published July 1, 2010 is available for $149.95 from the publisher ($127.17 from The CD-ROM version (” … contains all of the information found in the most recent print edition in a convenient, electronic format … offers practical utilities including the ability to search by structure, formula, or properties, cross-table searching, interactive data management, and data selection tools that allow readers to customize the display and export data as needed.”) published August 20, 2010 is $169.95 from the publisher ($145.70 from

  11. “Publishers make an average $14 from selling a hardcover book, but only $9 for each e-book. The obvious math is that published will have to sell 55% more copies of a title just to make what they have been making.”

    Take another look at that and think: Manufacturing costs of hardcover. Shipping of hardcover to warehouse. Shipping from warehouse to retail or online outlet location. Shipping of unsold copies back to publisher’s warehouse. Shipping of unsold copies in warehouse to new retail outlets for remaindering. Storage costs. Sunk costs…… etc etc and so forth.

    Refigure 55% to some lower number.

  12. bob

    Once again, this is a fascinating subject. As far as I am concerned it is a case of markets and distribution channels for mind entertainment, which is basically information.

    Defined by at as ” agreeable occupation for the mind”, entertainment covers a lot of ground. Videos, games, paper books, ebooks, and even WORK can qualify as entertainment. In my opinion people want to be entertained during their waking hours, and are not adverse to having entertaining dreams, either.

    We are seeing a seismic shift in the forms of entertainment and how they are delivered. New industries have been spawned, and the internet is proving to be a very powerful delivery channel.

    The music business is undergoing a seismic shift, just as the book publishing business. Internet music stores like Apple’s iTunes are much more efficient and attractive than the old record stores were. Well, certainly more efficient and economic.

    I believe that Amazon’s attractiveness is approaching that of the brick and mortar book stores, except that you can’t get much entertainment watching people at Amazon. Or, can you? Maybe they can stream lascivious browsing videos while checking out the books (or ebooks).

    What is interesting to me is O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online. For $22.95 per month I have unfettered access for up to ten technical books. I am studying programming and web site creation, and these extra information sources are well worth the money, even though I have to keep individual books on my “shelf” for one month, minumum.

    As new technology comes around, Safari Books Online or a competing service will still deliver value to me.

    The really big deal is that O’Reilly has found a way to annuitize their publishing buisiness. I am more likely to rent a book for my shelf that I would not have bought, anyway, if there is even one chapter that interests me.

    The same paradigm are bound to be established for other types of publishers. I can’t help but think that similar businesses for romance, mystery, adventure, etc. books can make money.

    eBooks have a future, and I don’t think the printed word has run its course.

  13. bob


    When I find a really good technical book through the Safari Books Online service, I will buy the paper version. Old habits are hard to defeat.

  14. Sera

    •33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
    •42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
    •80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
    •70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
    •57% of new books are not read to completion.
    •There are over 17,000 radio stations and over 2,000 TV stations in America today.
    •Each day in the U.S., people spend on average 4.7 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
    •The projected average number of hours an individual (12 and older) will spend watching television this year is 1,750.
    •In a 65-year life, the average person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.
    •Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child – 20,000
    •Number of videos rented daily in the U.S. – 6 million
    •Number of public library items checked out daily – 3 million
    •Percentage of Americans who can name The Three Stooges – 59%
    •Percentage who can name at least three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court – 17%

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