Yesterday the Guardian picked up on a press release by Amazon that stated eBooks outsell print books in the UK on Amazon by a healthy margin, while insisting it wouldn't state actual numbers or allow independent auditing. It's not exactly a new press release - I'm sure I've seen similar reports emanating from Amazon over the last twelve months, but perhaps this is the first claim made about UK sales? Anyway, the comments were pretty biting again, and to be fair the lack of transparency over numerical claims diminishes Amazon's claims automatically.
But it was the range of comments across both articles that interested me most, and this isn't a poke at Guardian readers who tend to be bright and successful people. Exactly the type that should be leading what Amazon are now calling a reading renaissance in the UK - well, they can read and probably can afford to buy books.
The first point I picked up was the number who have dismissed eBooks out of turn while admitting they hadn't tried them (apart from, perhaps, on a PC). I get this a lot in my daily life as I read my Kindle - I get told by work colleagues and perfect strangers alike that reading a print book is much better and that they couldn't read an eBook. Perhaps that's true, but in recent months I've only actually met one person who has actually tried that process and come to the same decision - a nice guy in work who travels to Asia once a year to visit his daughter and sees the Kindle as a necessary convenience for the journey.
Then there was the group who see eBooks as the last refuge for amateur writers who can't get a publishing contract. And there is probably an element of truth in this, although as I've pointed out previously the methodologies deployed to select books by the mainstream are a tad arbitrary. Plus, as many pointed out, apparently in support of their belief, when an eBook is successful it is generally picked up by the mainstream and published by them. That only reinforces the concept that some self published eBooks are as suitable as the books identified by the print industry and when you consider that the exposure most eBook authors have to readers it suggests that there are probably quite a few undiscovered nuggets sinking without trace out there.
But let's be fair, there is some truth in the allegation. There are a significant number of mediocre eBooks, badly edited and formatted being hawked. Some of these, I've noticed over the last few months, actually come from the mainstream publishers, no doubt as a result of having to cut labour costs in reply to the eBook challenge.
So the comments see-sawed between the view that self publishing will destroy the mainstream and the view that self publishing is a fly in the mainstream ointment. My view is that virtually every posting missed the real point. It isn't eBooks that are self published (like mine) or mainstream books rising to the challenge that is the important future - I suspect there will be a modified version of today's reality in years to come where the mainstream will modify its marketing and pricing model to compete with self publishing and that the market will self adjust in some way. I doubt self publishing will destroy all mainstream practises, nor will mainstream quell the self publishing industry. So at least one playing field seems to be level.
The bit nobody seemed to recognise is that in five years time, probably less, the majority of books, magazines newspapers and so on will be read on electronic devices. My best guess today is that in five years dedicated devices such as the Kindle and Kobo will be marginalised by multi-functional devices such as the iPad and other devices like the Google Nexus that I'm starting to use. Of course, if I'd written this blog five years ago I wouldn't have mentioned tablet computing as that was pretty much fantasy right then, so I'm happy to concede that in five years hence the tablets sweeping the world may well be replaced by an even more convenient family of devices not yet invented. But print media will be well and truly in decline and multi-functionality will rule the roost.
By default eBooks will be the norm and people will get used to it. They just don't realise it yet.
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