Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, March 8, 2010

Don't Believe the E-book Skeptics

Originally posted at the Huffington Post

Slate's technology writer Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a very interesting article about some off-base predictions of yore about our digital future. He focuses on a whopper of a Newsweek column from 1995 (which is actually titled "The Internet? Bah!") about how the Internet would be a passing fad because, among other things, online shopping can't replicate the experience of a salesperson, an online database can't replace a daily newspaper, and the Internet was so jumbled he couldn't even find the date of the Battle of Trafalgar.


Rather than just hardy har har-ing at the article, Manjoo takes a different, and very insightful approach. He notes that the author of the article was hardly a Luddite - he was actually deep in the weeds of the early Internet. The problem with the article wasn't that the author was dumb, the problem was that he was looking strictly at the Internet of 1995 and ignoring the potential for innovation and change.

Manjoo lays out four principles for more successful predictions about our digital future:

1. Good predictions are based on current trends
2. Don't underestimate people's capacity for change
3. New stuff sometimes come out of the blue
4. These days it's best to err on the side of (technological) optimism

When people make predictions about our e-book future, I find myself mystified that some people are so dismissive of their inevitability. I see blog posts and comments around the Internet from people who look at the nascent e-book landscape and think, "Blech. Expensive grayscale Kindles in a white piece of plastic? No way e-books are going to catch on!" Some people admit that they're going to be a part of our lives, but do so grudgingly and see them as yet another signpost that we're all going to hell in a handbasket.

Here's the thing they ignore: e-books are only going to get better.

Move over Nostradamus, here are some predictions about our digital book future:

1. The e-book reading experience is only going to improve.

Sure - not everyone loves the current grayscale Kindles and tiny iPhone reading experience, particularly for books that are illustrated or are beautifully designed. But better devices are coming and it's going to open up a new era of book design of unlimited possibility.

I remember that my high school English teacher told us that when William Faulkner was writing The Sound and the Fury he wished he could have published the text in different colors to denote the different perspectives, but obviously that would have been prohibitively expensive for publishers at the time. Not anymore. With the iPad and other devices coming soon, E-books are going color.

Tomorrow's writers are going to have almost limitless ability to include beautiful color photos and art and interactivity and creative design even in the mass-est of mass market books, the ones that are currently printed on cheap paper and sold on supermarket racks and where the idea of including anything colorful or design-y besides the cover is laughable.

Think of how much a fancy illustrated book costs now and then think about how cheaply that can be done digitally. E-books may be uglier than print books now, but they're about to get more beautiful.

2. E-readers and e-books are only going to get cheaper.

Sure, right now e-readers are out of reach for much of the population. That's going to change. Every new technology is out of reach until it gets cheaper. Digital toys that would once have sold for $100 are now given out in McDonald's Happy Meals. Lower prices for iPad-like devices of the future are inevitable.

And while publishers are currently taking a stand against deeply discounted e-books, the $12.99-$14.99 price point that they are fighting for is still half the cost of a $25 hardcover.

It's soon going to be possible to buy e-books cheaply on an affordable e-reader device, and they're going to be more colorful and interactive than most of their print counterparts.

3. Finding the books you want to read will only get easier.

One of the most common fears about the coming era is that no one will be able to find the good books in a time when anyone can just upload their novel to Amazon. It's the Fear of the Jumble, which was also expressed in that column at Newsweek, where the author complained that (in 1995) you couldn't even find the date of the Battle of Trafalgar on the Internet. He didn't realize that Google and Wikipedia would come along to give you that answer in mere seconds.

Already there are sites like Goodreads and Shelfari cropping up that allow people to swap reviews and recommendations about books. People increasingly find new books through blogs, forums, and heck, hearing from an author directly. It was never really possible before for authors to reach their audience directly - now it's a piece of cake.

Humans are really, really good at organizing things. If we can organize the billions and billions of web pages out there so that we can find what we want within a few seconds I think we can manage a few million books.

4. People are ignoring the digital trend.

I was watching a Seinfeld rerun the other day and there was a funny moment when Elaine hated a movie she was watching so much she called the video store and threatened not to rewind it. I'm going to have to explain this joke to my kids. And then I'm going to tell them about this funny thing we used to have where used to get these things called DVDs in the mail rather than having them downloaded straight to the TV (or wall or inside our eyeballs or whatever we're watching movies on in the future).

Everything that can be digitized is being digitized because it's cheaper and easier to send pixels around the world than physical objects. First it was music, then newspapers, then movies. Books are next in line.

5. Habits change

Yes, yes. The smell of books, reading in the bathtub, writing in the margins, a bookshelf full of books, etc. etc.

People will still have that choice and there are some books that simply can't be replicated digitally. But when faced with a better option, consumers shift extremely quickly. Right now the benefits of e-books are a little murky except for early adopters and those that can afford the devices. But that's just right now. Pretty soon they're going to be better (color! design! portable! interactivity! instantaneous!) and cheaper. Readers won't pay a premium for an inferior print product out of habit and nostalgia in great numbers.

The e-book era is going to be one of incredible innovation and unlimited opportunity, and people who don't see e-books dominating the future of the book world are ignoring the coming innovation and creativity and affordability. I refuse to believe the skeptics and pessimists. Books are about to get better.


Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

great article and a good reminder that despite any personal preferences people may have, the population almost always goes for whats easier and cheaper.

What I really will appreciate in ebooks are some kind of popup that will help me remember who a character was when they reappear 3 chapters later or that she is married to the guy currently being shown to be the villain. Much like the early hyperlinking in the internet, I suspect allowing notations and interactivity will enhance ebooks a lot. Just being able to pop up a map showing the layout would make my life easier in most books.

Falen said...

I'm really excited for the technology to get better and cheaper. How is that not going to be fun?

ryan field said...

"It was never really possible before for authors to reach their audience directly - now it's a piece of cake."

And that's a very positive aspect. Readers can teach writers a great deal about what they want to read.

Shaista (Lupus in Flight) said...

Such a brilliant post - so inspiring. I have never read an e-book, but I have been an audiobook fan for years - which most sighted people are snooty about. Dad's blind, and e-books with audio might actually revolutionise the literary landscape for many unsuspecting readers...
I have been reluctant to publish my poetry so far because I do see the corresponding images and dried flowers very much represented in colour. So the future of colour and images alonside the text sounds good!

ryan field said...

"Dad's blind, and e-books with audio might actually revolutionise the literary landscape for many unsuspecting readers..."

Shaista...great point. My mother is blind in one eye and e-books have given her back the love of reading. She tried large print, but it still wasn't good enough. With her e-reader there are no problems.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Ah, Nathan, you forgot paperless photographs. I talked to a counterpart at Kodak several years back. He relayed his "Crisis" when his team was challenged to deliver "Paperless" photograph. Their gut reaction was that it was impossible. Now digital photography is the norm and only a few shoot photos on film.

We'll have to go through all the growing pains in the book business as well as dealing with piracy, just like all the media before us.

Ryan said...

It's amazing people are even questioning the staying power of e-books.

Vook, the company producing multimedia e-books just secured another 2.5 million in venture capital from investors. Not a ridiculous amount of money, but enough to show people believe in the potential. I've been calling my memoir a multimedia project from the very beginning so hopefully Vook and I will jive soon! :)

Laurel said...

When Kindle first came out that boy I married was eyeballing one as a gift for me. I told him no way, I would always want my books the old fashioned way. I got a Kindle six months ago and I've bought 40 books on Kindle alone and downloaded even more from the public domain titles. This is in addition to the hard copy books and eBooks I've put on my computer.

Kindle is now my preferred format. Not because I love Amazon all that much, but because it is SO EASY. One click buy at 2 am and I start reading at 2:02. The only thing that gives me pause is being tied to Amazon with everything I've bought from them. I'd like more portability with my titles, but that's not a deal killer.

T. Wolfe said...

I personally cannot wait to buy one of the e-book reading devices ... I just want a good one and sometimes it is best to wait. Though by the time I do get around to buying one they will be preparing to go out of date with something better.

Just can't win. LOL

mfb said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Nathan, and am happy to see others' comments are as optimistic and open as yours. My own publisher (O-Books in the UK) is struggling through all the technicalities of getting all their books e-ready - and they started a year ago! But it will be easier and easier for publishers, authors and readers as time goes on - and it will go more quickly than we can imagine! Keep cheering!

JEM said...

I am also excited about e-book readers, and I have an entire office wall lined with bookshelves filled with books. It's faster, easier, and I like the environmental advantages of not chopping up trees. Also, the demo video from the Penguin UK peeps was super awesome. I just hope publishers get their stuff together about e-book rights...

Talli Roland said...

I agree 100 per cent. EBooks are here to stay and the experience will only get better. Trying to hold back technology is pointless.

Yat-Yee said...

My perspective on new technology has been skewed from being married to an ultra early adopter of technology. I've seen what you've described here happened many times and have no doubt you're right. My current position is:
(A) I'll still read physical books for now, and
(B) I can't wait to see what new innovations will surface in the next few years so I can feel good about the money I'll plunk down for the e-reader of my choice.

Stephanie Barr said...

If you're a traveling reader (like I am), an ereader can quickly go from a nice-to-have to a lifesaver.

I adore my Sony eReader and bought my daughter one for Christmas.

Thermocline said...

Marketing for e-books is going to catch up too. We can already go out and buy the soundtrack and video game to many blockbuster movies before their release dates. I can definitely see a future where readers can download the music from a novel they read about a 60's road trip or play as the lead character of a new spy thriller novel on their portable devices.

paravil said...

One of the most positive things that I see about the advent of the e-book is that it will put the books where the kids are, and could hopefully help retain the activity of reading as a pastime for kids who are coming of age in a completely digital world.

Re the Seinfeld/VHS joke--recently I was reading one of the "Little Critter" books with my daughter and chuckled at Critter dreaming about being a grown-up and ordering things from a catalog. My daughter will never have need for a catalog. As with the VHS, I'll have to explain what it is.

mfb said...

Fantastic idea, thermocline, about the music as the book's 'soundtrack' - i've often thought about how fun it would be to have a CD tucked into the book to provide the movie-ambiance we're all so used to. E-books and even paper books will someday have a chip included to play music appropriate to the chapter (if we want) though I think I prefer silence all around me when I'm really into reading...though when I write, I often have a signature music piece playing to get me in the writing space for that particular project.

Matthew Rush said...

Wow. The Sound and the Fury with different colored text for different perspectives and flashbacks. That really would have helped. Excellent book, a classic of course, but certainly required reading more than once to make sense of it all.

Lindsey Himmler said...

So, in other words...

Where's my flying car that reads to me??

I hope that's in the future.

Dominique said...

This was a very interesting post. It gave me a lot to think about with respect to e-books. I'm still on the fence about the whole deal, but you've certainly outlined some of their potential for me.

TraciB said...

Having spent the last 5 years rebuilding my library following Hurricane Katrina, I can say for a fact that had e-book readers been more affordable, I would have bought one and gotten all of my current titles as ebooks instead. The portability alone would make such a device worth having. Need to evacuate? Grab the e-book reader, mp3 player and laptop, and hit the road. No need to lose a document, photo, song or book... Not to mention how much less space the electronic devices take up in the evacuation vehicle.

I'm looking forward to seeing the prices drop and the technology improve so I can join the e-book family.

Michelle said...

And what is even more exciting is that e-books can also be viewed on computers. So you don't even need a reading device to do it. Amazon has an application (free download by the way) that allows you access to all the books available to kindle users except you view them on your computer. Granted it's not portable (unless you have a laptop), but who doesn't have a computer?! For a writer, the possibilities of reaching a larger reader-base through e-books is amazing!

therese said...

I hope this post makes the round to publishers desks through links in many blogs and emails. Spread some techno-sense!

I remember the excitement when my mom got her correctable typewriter. I remember my first word processing experience and the monitor was a black-n-white TV. :)

Tracy said...

I'm perfectly fine with adapting to whatever the technology is, so long as I'm never forced into any technological devices. Let eReaders flourish, until I decide to get one. I currently have no desire to do so, but I'm fine with them and the customers who want them to grow & thrive. So long as the option to buy that same title in book format isn't taken from me, I'm good.

JTShea said...

We humans love redundancy in our pastimes. New entertainments tend to augment old ones rather than replace them. Convenience does not dictate all. We simultaneously buy vast amounts of electronic entertainment and also expend vast amounts of money, time and effort to experience age-old low tech entertainment directly and in person. The dollar song download and the hundred dollar concert ticket. Take AVATAR. Two hundred million people left their homes in the depths of winter to pay 2 billion dollars to see that single science fiction movie in theaters.
I remain convinced that the paper book is such a good idea that now would be a very good time to invent it if it did not already exist! It remains unique among mass entertainments in not requiring the user to buy or operate a device to enjoy it. But suppose E-books add more than they subtract from the book market, replacing some but not all paper book sales, but also selling more to the large majority who buy few paper books anyway?
And Lindsey Himmler is right, Young Futurist Nathan. While you're still gazing into your crystal ball, answer us this - WHERE'S THE FLYING CAR!

Nathan Bransford said...

Hey guys, for those wondering about the flying car, Farhad Manjoo actually takes that one on in the Slate article I linked to.

Sue said...

This is a great post to fire up excitement about the future of publishing.

I'm lovin' it. My only concern-
contract problems/squabbles causing titles to be pulled off my lovely device.

No one can do that to a physical book sitting on my night stand (nefarious booklers aside).

Dara said...

I'm much like Tracy's opinion--as long as the option for an "old fashioned" book is still there, I'm fine with it. At least until eReaders become more affordable. Then I'll probably switch over pretty quickly.

I am slightly saddened though that the days of buying books as gifts will be numbered. How would you do that with an eReader? I'm sure there will be something like sending a book to a specific eReader on a specific date or what not. But you can't wrap up a Kindle title!

Oh well! Guess we will learn to adapt :)

lotusgirl said...

I was one of those skeptics. I love a book in my hands. BUT I could see the upsides of having a Kindle. I got one for Christmas and have become totally converted. I had to read an actual book last week for my book club and realized how much I'd come to love the light/slim Kindle and how much I'd come to rely on it keeping my place.

I look at the iPad with eager longing. It's funny how time moves us along from our preconceived notions. If those who say you have to pry the books from their cold dead hands had the chance to read just one heavy book on the Kindle they might change their tunes.

The Writing Muse said...

Right on!

Carl said...

All true, and the resistance to the e-book by the industry is short-sighted. Consider the advantages to the publishing industry of being able to market directly to the reader in the form of book trailers that accompany the books that are purchased, complete with links to purchase the new novels.

The technology may also revive the serial novel and employ other techniques which could help to encourage interest the reluctant reader population.

abs said...

I wonder how long it will be before someone starts GIVING away a decent e-reader packaged with a 2-year contract requiring purchase of X books per month from whoever's doing the giveaway? That'll turn the tide for sure, and might be a way for publishers to build some brand loyalty.

LJCohen said...

I have a gen 1 kindle and although it has its limitations, I really do love it. Like most ereader owners, I still buy physical books, and some books I have both in physical form and as an ebook.

My biggest complaint is in the difficulty in flipping back a chunk of pages in order to read something a few chapters back, or refer to something you know you read yesterday.

My experience is that books that can be read fairly simply from start to finish work really well on the kindle. More complex books don't provide as quality an experience as the physical book.

Case in point. I started reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on the kindle. Hated it and gave up on it about 30 pages in.

A few weeks later, hubby bought a hard copy of said book. I started reading it and *loved* it. But this is a complex, convoluted read that had me flipping back and forth the entire time I was reading.

So, current technology/interface is not a match for all kinds of reads.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

Eventually I will come to buy ebooks like I buy digital music: if I'm taking a risk on a new author = ebook; if I'm already in love with the writer/series = paper book

I download singles that I love off the radio but whenever the Red Hot Chili Peppers come out with an album I go to the store and buy it -- the quality and the experience is, in fact, better. And I know it's money well spent since I already love the band.

Gehayi said...

I'd rather have a real book than an e-book any day of the week. Yes, I think that the e-books are going to continue to gain in popularity--why, I can't imagine, but I think they will.

But I prefer the cheaper, low-tech stuff. E-book readers are WAY out of my price range, and I think they're going to remain that way for some time.

As long as print books remain available, I think I'll be okay. If everything goes digital, I don't know what the hell I'll do.

Nick said...

So long as I can be the guy on his front porch waving his shotgun around and telling the goddamn kids to get off his lawn, I'm on board with e-books, as I've said before. Take away the option for print and you'll soon find that old man's gun is more than a prop. Personally I'm not on board with interactive e-books -- something which I have actually already started seeing. I forget where but I did see two really basic ones -- or e-books in color or anything like that. Pictures...not wild about either. Sure, some old stories had sketches to go with them, so if it were something like that that's okay I guess, but let the story stand on its own. Being interactive, in full color, with photos, yaddah yaddah yaddah screams one thing and one thing only to me. Gaudy. But if people want such a thing, they can have it. Just leave me my paperback copy of Fleshmarket Close.

Also I must disagree with your last sentence. Books are not about to get better. Books are perfect the way they are. e-books are about to get better (arguably).

Anjali said...

I was an early naysayer about e-books. Now not only am I hooked on it, so is my 8-year old.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Wow, that is an interesting article, and it makes a very good point: we can't assume that e-books (or any other technology) will remain static and stuck in its earliest forms. Technology changes and evolves as we get used to it and use it more. E-books aren't the exception to that rule. (And this is coming from someone who still hasn't bought an e-reader and has only read a few e-books. I read short stories and the news online. I know I'll also end up reading more books electronically in the future.)

Ken Hannahs said...

Nathan, I'm sorry, but novels are NOT video games, and they are NOT picture books. The oncoming technology will undoubtedly change publishing, but I am hesitant to say that it will be for the better. The video you linked on Friday and again today is terrific for children's books, but how can this even be considered the same as a great novel by Chabon, Chaon, DeLillo, or Yates? I'm sure I don't have to tell you that those books do a job strictly through the words and that muddying them up with colors, soundtracks, pictures, or "interactive elements" will only DETRACT from the writing itself!

Don't get me wrong -- I am a big believer in technology. I'm currently on my second (!) kindle, but I don't believe that we should embrace it quite as willingly as you purport to do. I don't think that you're suggesting that we make everything the cerebral equivalent of a pop-up book, but I think we have to be careful to maintain dignity of the artform.

Nathan Bransford said...


And no one has to add anything. Not every e-book is going to be enhanced nor needs to be. But even if you don't add anything to an e-book the experience will still improve. You can do keyword searches, instantly navigate between chapters, and better yet, obtain books instantaneously. (Last night my wife finished her book at 11:30pm, downloaded another one and started reading again at 11:32)

Right now interfaces are a little clunky but they're going to get better, even for the books that don't want/need enhanced design.

Anonymous said...

I agree with LJCohen--I bought a bunch of ebooks for research, but it's almost impossible to find something in an e-book--very frustrating. The only ebooks I buy now on my e-reader are fluffy forgettable books.

I believe a study was done at Princeton--students were given ereaders, but after a few months of using them, they wanted to go back to printed books.

I doubt people will want highly illustrated coffee table books on an e-reader. These are the types of books that people like to browse through (or display in bookshelves etc).

Personally, the most frustrating thing about ebooks is that they are on a device and once you read them, they are out of sight, out of mind. I suppose that appeals to some people, but not to me. I like to flip through books later (for example, writing or gardening books).

Ken Hannahs said...


Thanks for the quick response time (almost german engineering quick) and I see now what you are getting at. I misunderstood the original post, I suppose.

Follow up for anyone:
How many times have you have actually used the keyword search? I keep on forgetting it is there, and then when I remember I can't think of a time I would use it!

Final question to the masses: What makes the kindle and similar devices so pleasing is the e-ink screen. Has anyone tried to read anything on the iPad? I have very sensitive eyes (they dry out if I even THINK about anything electronic) and the idea of reading an LED screen for hours on end makes me wince. It should be interesting to see if the iPad finds a way to counter-act that problem.

John C said...

OLED's - organic light emitting diodes will probably unite the paper book faction with the e-reader faction. OLED's can actually enable a sheet of paper to emulate a computer screen. Currently, the technology has a very slow refresh rate, but it seems it'd be perfect for e-reading.

Here's an old youtube vid from 2007:!v=iMz1iwkZFbE&feature=channel

Nick said...

Personally one of my biggest issues with e-books are I get distracted from them far too easily. Far too easily. I read Grant's memoirs on GoogleBooks because I lacked the money for it and the whole thing was free. It took me a month and a half to read his first chapter...which was something like five or six pages. Okay, so that involves the internet. Easy to get distracted there, right? I've tried e-reading on things like my Touch, which lacks internet unless I siphon off of a network (and most networks are encrypted these days). I still get distracted. I get bored. Every few words I start looking for other things to do. Actually holding the book in my hand and literally gives me incentive to keep going. Even a touchscreen copy burns out after about three minutes. Sure, e-books are still in their infancy, so I hope there's something to solve that, and who knows? Maybe there will be. But as is there is nothing to suggest that anything will solve that problem.

I will still ultimately prefer a hard copy to a digital copy, but if someone could find a way of making the digital copies interesting for me, I would feel more inclined to read them. CNN and the BBC have managed to do it with the news (although I do still enjoy a proper newspaper). Paul Tomkins' website has managed to do it for me and sports reporting. But e-books have time and again failed to engage my interests, even if I'm reading a brilliant story that would have my brain completely shut off the outside world were it a hard copy.


Alison said...

I suppose ebooks might seem ideal for picture books, as Ken says, but I'm concerned they would become the latest "educational" babysitter. Why read to your kids when the reader can do it for you?

And if the technology really takes off... if future e-picture books will be like "Xbox games on an e-reader" (, what happens to the joy of reading?

K.L. Brady said...

I recently got a Kindle and I just LOOOOOOVE it! I mean really really love it. Here are a few of my observations over the past few weeks regarding ebooks.

1. I wear glasses and the display is easier on my eyes than the stark white or cream paper. It's also more comfortable to hold than a book. So I read for longer periods of time.

2. I've read more books in the past few weeks than all of last year. I've bought more books than I care to think about. The convenience of buying the book I want whenever I want is awesome. I never knew how much driving to the bookstore kept me from buying books.

3. If certain publishers weren't clinging to the high prices, I would repurchase a lot of the paperback and hardcover books I haven't read yet in Kindle format--and they'd have two sales to show for that book instead of one. I don't think they are really looking at things from that perspective.

Great post though! I couldn't agree with you more.

Summer Fey Foovay said...

As a writer who is also an artist and webpage designer I find the idea of books in color, with graphics and interactivity really exciting! I find the idea of being able to reach directly out to my readers and hand them over a digital copy within seconds without the layers of "middlemen" between us freeing to me. Even though I am a terrible marketer and know it. LOL. As a reader - who has hauled a collection of literally a few thousand books from coast to coast for the last 30 years, I find I rather like the idea of having them all stored on this nice little laptop that fits under the bed - with just a few dear favorites still in their hardcovers to go to sleep with at night. What's not to like? It's great to see someone else who sees the movement to ebooks as a good thing. Oh yes, one more thing - won't it be NICE to be able to go online and download old favorites for 99 cents just like you can now download old favorite songs from iTunes? Seriously - I have owned six copies of The Hobbit because the paperbacks fall apart eventually.

Donna Hole said...

I think I'm one of those going kicking into the digital age, but going I am. My first computer cost over $1200 and had 1GB for memory. My $50 MP3 player has more than that.

You are right Nathan. Things change - people change. I'm basically just sitting on my laurels and waiting for it all to sort itself out. Then I'll buy.

And be totally hooked.


Gehayi said...

"Oh yes, one more thing - won't it be NICE to be able to go online and download old favorites for 99 cents just like you can now download old favorite songs from iTunes?"

No, it won't. If they're that cheap and that accessible, I'll buy them all the time and I'll go into more debt than I'm in now. And yes, this is a very real worry of mine.

John C said...

Here's a cool pic of what could be with OLED.

I read paper books, e-books, books off my PC monitor. I listen to audio books on my mp3 player or iPhone or Droid.

I think if I were thrust back into the 90's knowing what I know now, I'd surely suffocate of anxiety for not being able to instantly look up anything on google.

I remember doing research papers with the circa 60's era encyclopedias my parents had. I remember when they bought a new set and were so proud of it.

I remember in college when Lexus was not the name of a car, it was the only way to get info "online".

While we all have our preferences, our current mindset will be slowly overwritten by the current gen, and so forth and so on, like a slowly evolving computer program. Someone then will be reading the archives for Nathan's blogs and wondering just what in the world we were thinking.

Except then they won't have PC's or smart phones as we do. They'll likely have a Google chip in their brain sending the info directly into their brain's visual cortex.

And my dreams of having cyborg pirates and ninjas taking over the world will finally be realized.

Ken Hannahs said...


I think that no matter what happens, "educational babysitters" will be there for whenever a parent isn't willing, or (as I would like to imagine, more frequently) when a parent just doesn't have time to read to their child. Ultimately, the parent still has a choice to sit down with their child and read a book, but if the child can do it on their own, and they don't have that "barrier to entry" I think it is a plus.

Similarly, Xbox games on the e-reader will still depend entirely on the end-user's willingness to download those games (until the games come stock... then we can wail, moan, and gnash teeth) and thus wrecking, I think, the joy of the e-reader, but the option will still be there, which is, I guess, a subsequent win for consumers.

S.D. said...

I want a solar powered e-book. If they had that, I would buy it.

I would still be nervous about it breaking though.

Oh, and I would miss real book flaps and the little data page. Other than that, I can see myself adapting for sake of cost. Especially if th e work was colorful :D

T. Anne said...

I see an ipad in my near future. The flying car not so much.

I would really like to believe that the future of books is going to open more doors to unpublished authors and not make it more difficult to garner an audience. There's hope till the end, right?

Maggie said...

So I have a question, which may be totally off base, but this got me to thinking. Do you think that the popularity and advancement of e-book readers will have any implications for the novelist? Specifically the unpublished, hungry writers?

For instance, will the less expensive publishing costs (therefore lowered risk) allow publishers/editors to be more courageous about taking on newer writers? Or will the lowered costs possibly even allow for more volume of books to be published in a year?

Mira said...

This is such an insightful post, Nathan!

I agree with every point, some of which I hadn't thought of before, and even then, I still agree with them. That's just wierd. I actually find myself in the relatively odd postion of having nothing to add.

Now what do I do??

Well, I will say that I'd love a car that flies.

Other than that, I'll just reiterate that I completely agree with everything here!

Viva the future!

David Kubicek said...

I've always been excited about where technology is going, and your post has provided good insight into the cool developments that may be coming in e-books over the next few years. These are exciting times in which we live.

Karen_McQuestion said...

Wow, couldn't have said it better myself! Great post, Nathan.

This is an exciting time to be a reader and a writer. I'm a self-published Kindle author and the last seven months have been beyond wonderful. My books have connected with readers and one of my novels (A Scattered Life) was optioned for film. I am grateful.

I agree that we're in the beginning stages of ebook technology--I can't wait to see what happens next.

Nancy said...

I read through several of the posts here, and most were about the e-reading experience. I'm having the same thoughts as Maggie: how will ebooks affect the author? What are the advantages for them and how does it enhance the author/publisher experience over print books? Maybe this is a blog topic for you, Nathan. :) n

Peter Dudley said...

Word. People, listen to the prophet.

We're going to need a new PSA.

Actually, it's important to consider the digital divide in this future. As technology advances, public policy must keep pace to ensure that entire populations of kids aren't left out. When all books are digitized, only those with the reader devices will be able to consume them. This, it turns out, is a kinda important topic.

Jonathon Arntson said...

That's one heck OF A post. I'll admit to being a skeptic...but that stems from me not understanding E-readers and most technologies. Combating my incredulity is my utter curiosity about the fate of books. As a young, unpublished writer I think coming to terms with E-readers is coming to an understanding about my career's future. I won't give you all the credit, but find validity in the fact that you are aiding in the opening of people's minds.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that ebooks are the next big thing. I hate ebooks with a passion that borders on the fanatical, but I can see that this is where publishing is heading.

Instead of asking about when ebooks become popular, agents and publishers need to be asking themselves if this is a technology that the industry wants to embrace.

Did you learn nothing from the iPod and iTunes? iTunes killed the music industry. It made it possible for people to purchase only the one song they wanted out of a whole album or it allowed them to outright pirate the music they wanted to hear instead of purchasing it.

The same thing is poised to happen to publishing. As ebooks become more and more popular you will find that people are stealing the books they want to read instead of purchasing them.

Is that the direction you really want publishing to go? I see all the big publishers were lined up to support the iPad -- but it doesn't seem like they gave it any real thought.

Nathan Bransford said...


There are lots and lots of differences between books and music and the publishing industry and the music industry. For one, while people will definitely sell short stories, most books don't do better broken up, so the threat of the entire business model changing from albums to singles doesn't have a parallel. We've also had over a decade for the electronic media market to learn and for the public to mature and not expect that they're going to necessarily get things for free.

Sure, piracy will be an issue. But this is a case where the industry is creating the market, not the pirates - the pirates created the mp3 market and the music industry was playing catchup. That's a crucial difference.

Anonymous said...

What are the advantages for them and how does it enhance the author/publisher experience over print books?

If ebooks become staggeringly popular, there is a huge opportunity for mid-list authors to skip the whole Submission -> Rejection slush pile and take their book directly to the readers.

There are quite a few authors making $40k+ through's Kindle by taking their ebooks directly to the public at a discount rate.

Expect this to continue into the future. Authors who can't find a home with big publishers will have an opportunity to use gorilla marketing to build their own fan base around their works and make a pretty decent living doing it.

I hope that this will cause publishers to loosen the purse strings a bit when it comes to author advances and that they will need to publish more and more 'smaller' books with sales in the 10k - 50k range instead of relying on the million sellers to build their business.

Either way, the face of publishing is changing. The question is if Agents and Publishers can keep up.

D. G. Hudson said...

I'm just waiting for the price to come down. My husband already wants one, and I'm flexible. I see nothing wrong with having both worlds -- some e-books and some tangible books.

IMO, one of the negative aspects of the e-book readers is the fragility of the device. Hope the designers can address that in the near future. The consequences are much more dire when I drop or fumble an e-reader than if I dropped a paper book.

Anonymous said...

Sure, piracy will be an issue. But this is a case where the industry is creating the market, not the pirates - the pirates created the mp3 market and the music industry was playing catchup. That's a crucial difference.

I will chalk up your comments to a legitimate and sincere naïveté.

There is already significant piracy of books -- sometimes the pirates go so far as to scan entire books before release (ie, Harry Potter) and release them onto the net and there has been a major movement to pirate all comic books in digital form. (Look up DCP in your favorite web browser if you are deathly curious.)

The industry is playing catch-up to the pirates and the second you make things easier for people -- like with the nook and the iPad where the content is not locked like on the Kindle -- you will see a huge increase in the number of people who leech instead of buy.

Never underestimate the general public when it comes to not paying for things.

What I'm trying to get across to you (poorly, forgive my writing skills) is the idea of value. When you move from paper to digital there is a loss in the perception of value. We value a book because it has a physical presence in our home and in our hands. When you move that same book (or comic) into a digital form you lose the perception of value that the consumer has and that is what hurt the music industry more than the invention of the .mp3. People perceived that music was free and they started stealing it instead of buying it.

I see the same thing happening to books.

Nathan Bransford said...


The scale is vastly different. Look, I know piracy is something the industry is going to have to deal with. I just don't think it's going to be on the order of magnitude that the music industry was facing.

I don't think it's mainstream that people expect not to pay anything for music anymore. There's still obviously a very strong contingent that pirates music and movies, but I personally think attitudes are changing.

It's going to be a definite challenge, but I really don't think it's going to be an existential one as it was to the music industry.

Peter Dudley said...

sometimes the pirates go so far as to scan entire books before release (ie, Harry Potter) and release them onto the net

For real? I mean, really, you're using THAT as an example of how piracy will kill the publishing industry?

Meanwhile, Green Day, Beyonce, and Rihanna were going bankrupt from music piracy.

Concerns over "piracy" of digital media are a red herring. The software industry has not collapsed. The music industry has not collapsed. The movie industry has not collapsed. They have, however, changed.

The people who are getting the digital content for free are people who wouldn't have bought it in the first place. In many instances, the digital "piracy" of a single song has led to an iTunes purchase of an entire album. Music piracy has been around far longer than mp3s... or are you, Anonymous, too young to remember cassette tapes?

I also disagree with your perceived value theory. There are many, many books that are just as physical as any other, yet they have absolutely no value except as kindling on my next camping trip. I certainly would not value a Raffi CD more than I value my Clash mp3 files (legally purchased, I might add).

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Green Day, Beyonce, and Rihanna were going bankrupt from music piracy.

There will always be success stories, however the industry as a whole has been losing money. Here is a little quote from Business Week for you,

"Total industry sales were about $10 billion last year, down from $14 billion in 2000, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Revenues from digital download services like Apple iTunes and Amazon MP3 are still growing strong, but they're not generating enough revenue to make up for the sharp decline in CD sales."

Piracy and the perception that music is free has led to a decline in sales.

And here is a quote from the LA Times talking about the movie industry,

"The studio bosses who should be celebrating the unprecedented upswing in moviegoing at theaters -- with theater box office up roughly 15% this year -- have been getting a big dose of bad news from the other end of the food chain. DVD revenues have cratered in the past six or so months, dropping off (depending upon whose figures you trust) as much as 15% to 18% overall."

They are also getting hurt by both piracy and the Red Box rentals. DVD sales are down this year by as much as 18%. A far larger loss than can be explained away by the flagging economy.

The perception of the value of a movie has been reduced to $.99 and that is killing their DVD sales.

Again, I ask it as a question... Is that where you want the publishing industry to go?

I see the industry blindly embracing the move to digital and ignoring how this move has damaged other media industries.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not a question of "want" or "don't want." It's going this direction whether you or I or anyone else wants it or not. We can be apprehensive and resistant to the change or we can be optimistic and look for opportunity.

John Jack said...

I've examined e-reader technology's emergence as much as is in my power to do. I'm left with several unanswered questions.

e-reader technology creates an unknown degree of personal separation from a text. How much is digital reading different, more or less, from paper reading? To what degree is a lifelong paper reader's personal experience different from a comparable native digital reader's experience? Other variables of that question; how is a lifelong paper reader's experience different from the same reader's digital reading experience? A native digital reader's digital reading experience different from the same reader's paper reading experience?

Technology unquestionably creates an alienation effect. The more the world becomes digitally connected the more personal experience becomes disconnected from the full reality of in-person interactions.

Reading creative writing by itself isolates individuals from in-person interactions, yet deeply engages readers in secondary world personal interactions. Reading is therefore nonetheless an important personal though private experience.

Written word's attraction and greatest strength comes from how it provides a private, personal, individual experience, which no other media channel delivers as effectively. Reading by one's self offers an escape mechanism for coping with the pressures and stressors of an increasingly emotionally indifferent and jostling world. All media besides paper creates variable amounts of alienation effects from conscious or nonconscious awareness of technology and from conscious or nonconscious awareness of sharing the experience with audiences, strangers or otherwise.

Reading, writing, and literature study have one foremost practical societal benefit. They foster effective, conscious, critical thinking for one's self, which contributes to the individual and the greater good. If e-readers bring more eyes to the page, society benefits overall. In that, I'm satisfied digital reading will eventually be so. What I'm not satisfied about digital reading is whether it enhances or detracts from personal experience more than paper reading.

Anonymous said...

It's not a question of "want" or "don't want." It's going this direction whether you or I or anyone else wants it or not. We can be apprehensive and resistant to the change or we can be optimistic and look for opportunity.

I totally agree with you. This is the direction things are moving, I'm saying that it isn't the big win for the industry that most industry professionals seem to think that it is.

You will see an upturn in sales on these new devices in the beginning, until people realize how easy it is to download the content that they want without having to pay for it.

Lorel Clayton said...

Great post. I'm really optimistic about e-books. I spent the money on a Kindle (I decided I didn't want a backlit screen like the iPAD has--hate the eye strain from reading off the computer) and it's better than I dreamed. I got the leather cover so I can hold it like an old fashioned book and I can download anything in their library without having to pay for internet connection. Living in Australia it saves me tons of money not to have to pay shipping charges. I've been won over.

Gehayi said...

"It's going to be a definite challenge, but I really don't think it's going to be an existential one as it was to the music industry."


Book piracy already IS a huge issue, at least to the authors I know. There are tons of sites that pride themselves on posting both print books and ebooks on the day of publication. My friends are constantly having to identify themselves to these sites and tell the sites to take their books down. Which doesn't last long. A book gets taken down and two hours later, the site has locked itself to anyone but members and the stolen books are right back up again.

I even known of pirate sites that post books that are being sold strictly for charity, and that are being publicized as such.

So e-piracy of books isn't something that might be a problem, or that isn't a problem yet but will be in the future. It's already a problem. And if the future of publishing involves e-books, I think that publishers and agents need to address this. The authors can't do much in a vacuum.

Nathan Bransford said...


They are addressing it. No one is going to be able to stop it completely, but you can bet it already is a big part of digital strategy and will probably be even more important in the future. I still don't see it being an existential threat to publishers, but of course it all remains to be seen.

Gehayi said...


How are publishers addressing the problem of e-piracy of books? What are they doing to stop it, shut down the pirate sites or at least slow it down?

I'm not being sarcastic. I'd just like to know what, specifically, is being done.

Nathan Bransford said...


Here's one program as an example.

Anonymous said...

I'm not being sarcastic. I'd just like to know what, specifically, is being done.

Nothing is being done to prevent the piracy of regular books or comics (scans) or the piracy of digital ebooks.

Any technology they develop to lock a file to a specific piece of hardware can be easily cracked and despite that informative link Nathan posted -- pirates don't post books online where they can be found using web crawling software.

Pirates organize themselves into release groups who distribute their content to networks of private ftp sites. From there it is downloaded by members of the group and then uploaded to hundreds of thousands of private Bittorrent sites -- whose pages are not viewable to the general public or web crawling bots.

Anyone can sign up for these sites and have instant access to an almost unlimited library of music, movies, video games, applications and (of course) ebooks.

This is what I was talking about above -- the pirates are already one step ahead of book publishers and this is why industries like the music industry and movie industry are hurting.

Look at the PC gaming industry... this is an industry that has almost disappeared due to piracy. Developers were forced to move to console systems which were much more difficult to hack/crack before they started to see the kinds of record profits that they see now.

Devices like the nook and the iPad are open platforms. They read any .pdf file or epub format file that you can copy to the device. They are not locked like a console system and will be totally open to the outright digital theft of books as these devices become more and more common.

Having identified the problem I guess the next question is, "What do you do about it?"

Jimmy Ng said...

I remember reading the iPod, not sure if it was called that then, was rejected by several companies before being picked up by Apple.

Why would anyone by a box to carry music when we have cassette tapes and CD players?

Now we have iPhones.

With the environment being so important to us and the convenience of the coming iPad, I have little doubt ebooks will become huge.

But will author commissions follow suit and reimburse us as if a paperback was bought?

Jimmy Ng

Yo22er said...

When will it be possible to place a book, written, say, in MSWord, with a specialist 'e-publishing' site that will translate the book into the formats used by e-book readers, add a few bells and whistles like cover pages etc. and then post on all sites that sell e-books (Amazon, Barnes and Noble....)?

If the answer is now, who, who! Please, Please! If the answer is never, why not?

Anonymous said...

When will it be possible to place a book, written, say, in MSWord, with a specialist 'e-publishing' site that will translate the book into the formats used by e-book readers, add a few bells and whistles like cover pages etc. and then post on all sites that sell e-books (Amazon, Barnes and Noble....)?

The short answer is that if you are bright enough to write a novel, you should be bright enough to figure out how to convert your word .docx file to a format where it can be used by ebook readers.

All the information you seek is right at your fingertips. Rub the magic Google and the ebook genie will pop out.

Peter Dudley said...

That Business Week stat is intriguing. "Total sales" is what people paid. It does not factor in a change in costs. Certainly a 25% drop in total sales over an entire decade looks shocking. Until you think about the change in the model. The sales of downloaded music is growing strong while sales of CDs are dropping. That's a lot of brick and mortar cost and a lot of cost of goods and shipping that simply is ignored by this statistic. You are showing us only a very small piece of a very large picture, Anonymous. It also does not describe how that $10 billion in sales today is parceled out among the artists, labels, distributors, manufacturers, and retailers. I have some suspicions about all that, but I have no statistics to back them up so I'll keep them to myself.

Also, the bittorrent description is terrifying, to be sure, but honestly, how many consumers even know what a bittorrent is? When I was in college 20 years ago, I knew people who "phreaked"--they used other people's telephone calling card numbers to charge long distance calls. I just found an online stat claiming $35 billion lost per year to phreaking. Last I checked, telecom was alive and well. Some people did it a lot, but most users of telephones had never even heard the term.

The RIAA and MPAA tried to legislate digital formats out of existence because they were scared to death of piracy. They made up very convincing-looking statistics and spent oodles of money lobbying Congress. It was wrong-headed and a huge waste of time and money. They even sued a 12-year-old girl who lived in the projects. But that didn't stop digital formats from taking over.

My point is, this whole piracy thing is overblown. Yes, there have to be efforts to contain it through law enforcement and legal action. Yes, PR campaigns explaining that copying without paying is in fact taking food out of the mouths of industry executives' children. Every industry that sells something worth having faces theft and fraud. And no matter what DRM or locks or whatever you put on the product, someone properly motivated will find a way to steal it. But that won't stop digital formats from taking over.

Anonymous, I don't agree that you've "identified the problem." I believe you've gotten caught up in a side issue that is not nearly as bad as some people make it seem. The overall economic benefits of digital FAR outweigh the potential loss from piracy.

Michael A. Emeritz said...

I just wrote a blog about this last week; "Internet killed the paperback star", haha. I used to think that technology would be the end of traditional literature, and now I know that it will, but it wont be the end of literature as a whole. I'm looking forward to new advances in technology, especially those that allow us writers to be more visually creative with our work. Great post!

Lisa Lane said...

As an author whose works have been published primarily in electronic format, I'm always very excited to read positive thoughts and insights on digital publishing.

Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful article, Mr. Bransford!

Yo22er said...

"The short answer is that if you are bright enough to write a novel, you should be bright enough to figure out how to convert your word .docx file to a format where it can be used by ebook readers."

I should also probably be 'bright enough' to shampoo my carpet.

There will always be some writers who like just to write, as there are some scientists who like just to do science and musicians who like just to create music.

A world in which an artist or scientist must acquire, amongst others, the skill of self-promotion will miss out on a lot of talent.

SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti said...

From my own experience with an ebook reader (nook), the battery is going to have to improve before people are really going to buy into it. Case in point, my four hour battery. At least B&N declared mine defective and are getting me a new one in 6-8 weeks, so I can have more than 4 hours of reading time before I recharge. But really, we need about 4 weeks on a single charge. Battery technology hasn't improved that much.

Also, the ebook price will have to drop down for fiction if there are cheaper print versions out there. OR ebooks will have to offer something that mass market cannot compare with--something other than instant download, because I don't need the book that bad. I can wait a few weeks for the mass market to arrive. Or months, in the case of Stephen King's latest, for it to arrive in mass market form.

Just a few opinions.

G said...

Personally, I'll probably won't be buying a e-book. Not because of the reasons that people listed, but simply because with my eyesight, reading stuff on a screen simply is problematic for me.

Whereas with blogs, etc. you can change the focus to make it larger, I don't think that being able to do that on a Kindle (if you can do that) will cure the problem for me.

Not trying to be a Luddite, but simply acknowledging the physical realities of my being (which is also why I don't do audiobooks as much either).

JDuncan said...

Well, as a debut author (not out until next year but still) I can only say, "Bring it on!" I think these predictions are pretty darn accurate. The timeline for things may be a bit on the flexible side, but all of these things will happen. For those who miss the touch and feel of those lovely covers, I'm also seeing a time in the future when a popular add-on for ereading devices will be a slip cover for whatever favorite book you happen to be reading. In fact, I'll go far as to predict you might see store versions of digital books which is basically the slip-cover plus the download code for the book, much like you now get special dvd packaging with digital copy included for an extra five bucks.

Zoe said...

I do love reading your insight and thoughts into the ebook world and where it may all be going.

Though I have to say I've never come across any of these blogs you mention that are pessimistic about the ebook trend? I'd be curious to read what they have to say, could you point me in the direction of any?

JTShea said...

'It's going in this direction whether you or I or anyone else wants it or not.'
For the first time I strongly disagree with you, Nathan. Everything that happens in publishing (and in many other areas) is the result of decisions by people, including you and your commenters. 'IT' is us. We may see the accumulated results of our actions and inactions as impersonal forces and movements, like geology or the weather, but we are then speaking metaphorically, not literally. NOTHING in publishing can go in ANY direction without you or I or somebody else wanting it. EVERYONE can influence a market, in however small a way.
That said, I agree with you regarding optimistic opportunism. Likewise that piracy is unlikely to threaten the existence of publishing. Even the apparent decline of recorded music and movies may be a fluke, a return to a kind of normalcy after a decade or two of extraordinary sales of extraordinarily expense album CDs and movie tapes and DVDS. I wonder how current recorded music sales compare in real terms with sales in the 1970s?

Rowenna said...

One of the reasons I won't hop on the bandwagon yet is because I know it's getting better--why would I drop hundreds on the first thing out of the gate when a) I don't need to and b) it's only going to get better and less expensive?

In my humblest of opinions, however, you overstate the case of how great ebooks will be and how soon we're looking at digital only. I think there will be room for both paper and digital for a long time. Some books will be improved by the digital format, but the literary novel? I don't think anything beats words on a page--take it paper or digital, your preference, but the draw for me isn't the flashy extras, it's the words.

Diana said...

w00t! You tell 'em, Nathan! I've been published in ebook and print formats for six years and I can tell you from experience, the ebooks WAY outsell the print.

Anonymous said...

eBooks are fine. But they have zero to do with their print counter parts. I'm sick of the pricing excuses and comparisons. The two products are very different.

Jon said...

Much like Cell phones, I'm just going to wait until the stupid things to work out all their kinks. They may be inevitable, but that doesn't mean I need to stick with them through all their false starts and fumbles.

mkcbunny said...

I agree, Nathan. I love print, but I love all of the advantages of e-books.

My favorite thing about e-books is the flexible font size. I got glasses a couple of years ago mainly so I could read the damned tiny type in the New Yorker. When I got my Kindle, I subscribed to the e-version. Now I can read those stories in bed, at night, without glasses!

Dena Daw said...

I totally love e-books, and I have read more than a few of them. Cheaper is always better for me (we're on a budget), so I'm glad it's only going to GET cheaper!

Mariah Irvin said...

I remember when everyone said internet shopping couldn't compare to the real thing! It's funny to look back on that now.

Although I'm not sure at the moment whether I'll eventually use an e-book, I definitely think they will catch on in a big way.

Mary McDonald said...

I'm fascinated with E-readers and have been keeping up with announcements of various innovations. I haven't yet bought one though.

The one I think looks the coolest is the Skiff, but it's bigger than I'd want, and not sure it can do color. But, it's bendy--how cool is that?

I have no doubt that E-readers of some sort will be as commonplace as laptops and cellphones in the near future, and will happily dive into the technology when the prices drop a bit.

I thought about getting a Kindle or Nook for Christmas, but decided on a netbook instead. I did download the Kindle software, but haven't had a chance to use it too much yet.

Janny said...

As a writer and editor, I have only one question to ask in the midst of all this ebook enthusiasm:

Who's going to edit these books?

No, I'm not being facetious. We're told all the time that ebooks are getting better and better because the reputable publishers of same are employing editors to do the same quality of work as they do for print books...or better. But we all know that in many cases, that’s simply not true, and it’s becoming less true by the minute. Not because editors don’t care--but because they can no longer feed themselves, much less anyone else, on the remaining money that’s left to pay for editing once book prices are slashed so low.

It's still an unpleasant elephant-in-the-room that a great number of ebooks are badly edited now, if they're edited at all. In the excitement of instant access to inexpensive books, what a consumer doesn’t realize is that very few epublishers can afford to pay editors anything other than a percentage of sales; if they do include an editorial fee for a book, it's so small as to be laughable. So what happens when ebooks get cheaper, and cheaper, giving these publishers even smaller margins from which to work?

How these ebooks will magically get competent--never mind great--editors when no one will have the money--or, in some cases, the inclination--to pay them anymore, is the question no one’s answering. You can say all day long that nothing will truly replace "real books," or real editors, or real book people... but if you're saying that while buying your ebooks on the cheap, you're lying to yourself.

Formatting, color text, graphics, browsing capabilities, and all the rest, are great--if the books are worth reading in the first place.

But if no one’s editing...soon, they won’t be.

My take,

Jon said...

Totally 100% true, Janny.

I took a brief spin through the really small press/self publisher land and it didn't take very long before I vowed never to go back again. After awhile I was actually insulted that someone would sell me such a subpar product. At this point, to me, the idea of quality in self-publishing is laughable.

I am more than willing to pay for quality

Casey McCormick said...

I've been resisting e-books mainly because I'm so attached to my paper copies. I think it's a nostalgia thing. But, I'm pretty sure I'm buying an iPad next month and one of the biggest things I'm looking forward to is the instant gratification of buying a book online and reading it immediately. I do most my holiday shopping online these days, so I have a feeling the same will happen with my book buying. Should be interesting! My husband will certainly like the space that will be saved.

Laura Pauling said...

E-readers don't bother me. I'm sure some day, I'll have one. I mean I did switch over to loud, obnoxious musical toys for my babies, even though I think all the blinking lights and sounds are a little much. Maybe too much stimulation. That's what I'm afraid will happen to e-books. That it will be so interactive and colorful and noisy that kids won't really be reading - just entertaining themselves.

ELP said...

The only thing that causes me concern, an issue that I've not read anything about, is the cost of keeping all of these e-books charged. How long does the battery keep a charge? How much more will these e-readers strain our fossil fuel resources? Yes, the cost of e-readers will drop, and maybe the cost of a book download will drop too, but these costs will just be transferred to our electric bills, trying to keep the things charged. At least books are made from trees, a renewable resource.

I wonder what will happen if the hard-drive crashes. Did I just lose my entire library?

On a positive side (since I'm a teacher by day), I do see a market, a HUGE market for e-readers in textbooks. Where I work (high school), the textbooks are getting very large; many students will not bring their books to class. E-readers would solve this problem.

Claude Forthomme said...

I AGREE with you, Nathan, well said! E-books are the FUTURE...

And yes, there'll still be space for paper versions - I have a Kindle and I loooove it too, but...
BUT when I read a really GOOD book on my Kindle (and it's true, there still aren't that many available titles yet - most are the fluffy, forgettable type), then I'd like to own it in paper version. A traditional hard-cover paper book, sitting there on my shelf in concrete splendour so I can reach out to it, flip the pages and get back to the passages I liked...and KNOW that they won't disappear if my Kindle crashes!

Because that's my greatest fear: the short(?) life of my Kindle. Just like any other computer or electronic device, it can't last forever...

ANSWER: traditional paper!

What I would REALLY like to see is Amazon letting you buy a paper version of the title one has loaded up on one's Kindle at a REDUCED PRICE!

That would really help expand the book market, wouldn't it?

Because, bottom line, I'm convinced e-books aren't going to displace traditional books. No, they will EXPAND the market!

amelia jane said...

I feel that this list leaves out one very real concern about "ownership" of e-books: the current situation with digital rights management means that e-book readers are merely renting the books rather than owning them. After all, Amazon can remove a book from your Kindle anytime it wishes (though they say they won't do that again), and "ownership" of your e-book doesn't mean you can lend it to your friend, or re-sell it on Amazon. I hope these issues are addressed before e-books reach the height of popularity predicted here, or our rights as book owners may never be the same (cue ominous music).

SleepyJohn said...

Anyone looking for a flying car might find this interesting:

The real thing was sold last week. It folded up its wings and sat on a trailer. I really do not think the flying car is that far away.

SleepyJohn said...

Or even a flying/hover/amphicar. In which you can sit quietly reading e-books while it automatically takes you home from the office, over hill, down dale, across water, and over traffic jams.

When I look back on my sixty odd years of life I think I can safely say that the future comes a lot quicker than you think, and is accelerating all the time. I seem to recall a book from my youth that discussed this: "Future Shock' by Alvin Toffler. I suspect that long before my children are old they will view paper books much as we view stone tablets (or vinyl records and turntables) - just heavy and inconvenient.

Anonymous said...

You know Nathan, I used to read your blog every day. Now though, I'm tiring of all the e-book talk. To be honest, I'm really starting to feel like you're preaching. I get it. You like e-books. A lot.

But instead of post after post of the greatness of e-books and how they'll inevitably revolutionize the world, why not spend some time discussing some possible negatives that e-books could bring to the industry and ways that publishers should address this? Not every technology is flawless. Plastic saves lives; it also fills up land-fills, etc. I would see this as a more valuable conversation that the repeated rambling. I feel like you're just trying to coerce those who are against e-books over to your side by wearing them down, and you're starting to get a little insulting, especially in your last section, "Habits change." You might keep in mind that not everyone thinks that something without a pretty digital screen is an "inferior" product.
- AL

Nathan Bransford said...


I've posted plenty on possible downsides, including some less-than-rosy scenarios in the Choose Your Own E-book Adventure posts.

But look, e-books are the biggest news in publishing right now by far. Everyone is talking about it. Part of the goal of this blog is giving people publishing news. This is the news.

And while I absolutely understand that not everyone likes them or will like them or wants them, I'm not scared of e-books. I'm sorry, I'm not! Would it be better if I lied? There are plenty of people out there who are full of doom and gloom and fear when it comes to e-books. You're not going to find it here.

E-books are rocking the publishing world, and I'm not going to sit back and ignore them.

Tambra said...

I'm ebook published and I've always had an editor.

I would never write something and send it out without editing. My crit partners go through it, then I find more stuff to fix (writing is re-writing you know) and when its time it goes through the editing process.

I agree, there are some books out there that fall into the less-than-desirable category but not all ebooks are bad.

I've read some pretty bad New York City traditional published books. I think that's true in all genres and areas of writing and creativity.

NYT bestselling author, Angela Knight started out with ebook publishers Red Sage and Changling Press. Also add authors Dakota Cassidy, Bianca D'Arc, Devyn Quinn. I write romance so I only know my genre, but still, I think I've made my point.

Give ebooks a chance. You don't have to stop reading print books. I love my print books, but there's room in my life for ebooks, too.

Tambra Kendall/Keelia Greer

Nick Travers said...

Nathan, great article. I’m pleased to find a publisher with such a positive attitude to ebooks – hopefully, you will do well in the new environment. Effectively marketing books on the internet will be a great challenge, where the real money is made, and where authors will need the most help from experts – agents/publishers. I’ve teamed up with Smashwords because they are also a marketing company and can take some of this burden from me, but I still crave a publishing contract.

Ruthanne Reid said...

I hope this doesn't seem like any kind of flame, because it isn't. I absolutely love your blog and read it all the time.

But I have a question.

There really is no doubt ereaders are the wave of the future, and that sickens me - but probably not for the reason you think.

It's all well and good to talk about the affordability of ebooks, but it doesn't touch the price and fragility of an ebook reader.

That price affects three significant portions of the world: 1. children (who's going to give a $200 device to a five year old?), 2. low-income families, and 3. libraries.

The libraries serve those who can't afford to buy books - and if they can't buy books, they really can't afford to buy ereaders. So far, the same people who speak of an ereader-only future are fairly consistent in saying libraries are dying out, as well. In the future, will we have to have money to read? What is someone in an underprivileged country supposed to do? All those lovely schools where they teach children in Africa to read - those are going the way of the Dodo bird?

Children can carry books outside, toss them under the bed, be rough with them while developing the habit of reading and learning, all without fear of breaking them (at least not too much). Ereaders, on the other hand? Not gonna happen. Only an idiot would give an ereader to a child until that child was old enough to be responsible with it - which means young children won't be reading. Not on their own time, not when they want to. Reading will become something only done in school, or "later" - after they've developed the habit of entertaining themselves *without* the written word.

I want these two issues addressed. I want someone to talk about the fact that we seem to be heading back toward a culture where only the wealthy and privileged can access education. Yes, I know we already have a problem with fewer books being read, with fewer children reading, but I doubt the answer lies in making books even less accessible than before.

I really hope this is something that can be dealt with before we end up with generations of people separated into the haves and have-nots of books.

Nathan Bransford said...


Libraries have already embraced e-books and many are available for free. Thousands of libraries offer free downloads. Check out this post for more.


I'm absolutely not saying everything I've passed on is bad writing. Far from it. I have to pass on really good stuff all the time.

Ruthanne Reid said...

Thanks for the reply - and that is FANTASTIC news about the libraries. That will be passed along.

The other issues are still up for answering, but hopefully time will find a compromise.

Daisy Harris said...

I know this is an older post, but I happened upon it and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. What a great perspective! I wasn't so into movies or music so their evolution didn't rock my world, but I'm watching this e-book thing happen in real-time and it's very exciting/interesting.

And I read my iPhone Kindle app in the tub. I don't get why one wouldn't.

Anonymous said...
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SleepyJohn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...


I already deleted anon's comments, we just had someone trolling.

SleepyJohn said...

I was actually responding to the rather patronising post that preceded that one.

I received the deleted one by email and well understand you deleting it!

Nathan Bransford said...


Ah, I missed that one. Thanks.

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