WistfulACS3x5I read an article this morning about the fact that bookstores saw only a slight decrease in sells during the year of 2012. The article’s author went on to discuss the lower-than-anticipated impact of e-books on the publishing industry. He, for one, sees this as good news since E-book technology “still hasn’t adequately accommodated the poetry world, what with all of our pesky line breaks and peculiar spacing needs!”

You can read the entire article at: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/02/wait-bookstores-arent-dying/?utm_source=BBeNews&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=BB1309

While some people are shocked that the sales figures didn’t show a huge downturn in the purchases of traditional books, I, for one, am not. The reason why not only has less to do with Mr. Robley’s comment about the adaptive needs of poetry and more to do with the particular demands of research books and textbooks.

If publishers big and small discover how to make an e-book textbook as convenient of a resource as Wikipedia is to its users without the bother of being online or paying a possible subscription fee, then they will have solved a huge problem that e-books have now: convenient search ability.

I own and often read from my Kindle, but I have discovered as a fantasy fiction writer that hard copy books are far easier to use than e-books when I need to research something because of the simplicity of their glossary, index, and other cross-referencing features. E-books have tried to mimic this convenience with a linked table of contents feature and an occasional linked glossary, but that is, in my opinion, not nearly enough. With e-books you pay for the convenience of a large amount of information in a very small space. However, if that information is not easily searchable, then it offers no other advantages over a hard copy book.

The advantages of a hard copy book over an e-book thus far:
-easier information search ability
-can still read it if you drop it in water
-batteries not included or needed
-no special electronic equipment needed to read the book
-adaptive formatting for images and/or oddly formatted text
-great decorating piece
-a physical piece of author-signed memorabilia

The advantages of an e-book over a hard copy book thus far:
-easy portability
-more reading privacy
-easy to transfer to multiple electronic devices
-multiple backups available for the book’s information
-as long as you have battery power, you can read in any amount of light

If you mainly read fiction novels, then e-books are the perfect reading medium for you. If, however, you are a student, teacher, or researcher, you will find yourself sifting through a university’s library stacks far more often than you will staring at your e-reader’s luminescent screen.

When you buy a physical book, you are only paying money for that particular book. However, reading an e-book requires you to first purchase an e-reader device. In an age when most people already have a smart phone or computer or tablet or e-readers, this is thankfully less of a barrier than it used to be.

The last major barrier to e-books’ true success over hardcopy books is actually the publishers themselves. As an author, I know that the basic costs recouped in the sale of a hardcopy book are: editing, marketing, cover art, printing, distributing, shipping, bookstore profits, author profits, publisher profits, and taxes. While e-books still require many of these things, they do not incur shipping or printing charges. Their distributing and, in some cases, marketing costs are also substantially lower since they can be disseminated electronically via payment and download from a website rather than purchased through a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Yet these reduced costs are rarely reflected in the prices charged for major publishers’ e-books. Why?

Most people assume the answer is greed—that the publishers simply want to make more money so they charge the same or, in some cases, higher prices for the same material in e-book format verses a hardcopy format. I would agree with this answer in part, but this is not the whole story. The rest of the story is the simple fact that most established publishers are set up to publish hardcopy books, not e-books. Because of this, they have a decades-old perfected publishing system designed to produce hardcopy books. E-books have only been around for about the past 15 years and so they are sort of like the big publishers’ proverbial fly in the ointment. The established publishers know that e-books can potentially hold huge profits for them, but rearranging their organization to accommodate the publication of e-books is expensive. Therefore, most large publishers have stayed with the industry standard of producing hardcopy books first and e-books as an afterthought. This means that they put most of their resources into developing a hardcopy book and then have to spend extra money converting that hardcopy material into an e-book format. While it is more expensive to publish e-books in this manner, it would be far more costly to rearrange the company’s hierarchical structure. Consequently, despite the lessened costs of overall e-book production, it is still more expensive for a company to produce e-books then it is hardcopy books.

While this business paradigm is shifting thanks to smaller publishers being more adaptable to the change in technology, the big boys are still dragging their feet. Thanks to small publishers’ and independently-publishing authors’ low pricing of e-books, the industry giants are currently losing their shirts in the fight for e-book sales. However, once the industry giants are finally reorganized and fully on board with the cheaper e-book process and purchases, I predict a shift in which e-books will replace the standard paperbacks currently in such wide circulation. I also believe that hardback books will be produced in smaller quantities as more of a specialty item than a first-sale item. I have already seen signs that Harper Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins is adapting to this trend of e-books first and print books second, so I have no doubt more publishers will follow suit very soon.

In summary, I predict that lower prices, added advanced search ability, and adaptable formatting for images and odd text will skyrocket e-books’ success. Until that time; however, be prepared for your preferred e-reader device to sit on top of a book stack by your bedside.


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist-Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, email it to me. Thanks!