Is This the Future of Books?

I remember as a child discovering the joy of reading and consumed books about pirates and undersea adventures with coral atolls, turquoise transparent seas and hidden treasure that captured my imagination and took me to worlds far beyond my suburban existence.Is This the Future of Books?

Borrowing numerous books from the school library saw me inducted into the library hall of fame due to my constant attendance and high reading activity and my library card was replaced often due to frequent book borrowings.

In the evenings after lights out I quietly took a torch or my bedside lamp and hid beneath the covers and proceeded to read until my eyes closed or parents threatened to discover my illegal childish passion despite the threat of punishment for breaking the strict bedtime darkness curfew.

Reading for me is a passion and there is often 3-4 books on the go from fiction to professional books that challenge my thinking and push my boundaries.

Books for me take me on a journey whether that is one of fantasy or ideas that challenge my thinking or inspire me to go beyond my comfort zone. If I can glean one good idea out of one book then that is time well spent.

The good old inspiring book used to be in one format and that was the analog medium of paper.

What is a Book?

The web has transformed the publishing and delivery of knowledge and ideas and a book is now much more than papyrus or paper.

Books now come in many digital and analog formats.

  • eBooks
  • PDF Books
  • Kindle books
  • Hardcover books
  • Paperback books
  • Interactive books
  • iPad books
  • iPhone books
  • Tablet books
  • Nook books

These formats give you choices and allow you to publish the book in channels where readers are hanging out online and on mediums that are carried in the handbag, briefcase or pocket

Is This The Future of Books?

This presentation at a TED talk by Mike Matas demonstrates the first full-length interactive book for the iPad (while at Apple, Mike Matas helped write the user interface for the iPhone and iPad. Now with Push Pop Press, he’s helping to rewrite the electronic book).
YouTube Preview Image

(Thanks to my fabulous friend and blogger Mark  Schaefer for bringing this technology to my attention)

This maybe represents the future of the next generation digital book but the resources, content and media needed to populate and produce this book will make it a niche product. The book will still be something that can be written by one person not a team of engineers and video producers.

Is the Convenience of the eBook Enough?

I love the convenience of the Kindle but I find it strangely disconcerting to not know exactly where I am up to or how far it is to the end of the book. I also miss the the texture of the paper that a Kindle cannot provide me. The hard plastic of the Kindle casing creates perturbation but yet I persist because if  I want a book, I can have it ‘now’ and I don’t have to wait for Amazon to deliver by courier or hope to find it at my local bookstore.  I cannot underline or highlight with the confidence that a paper book provides me. Reading online and reading many blogs that connect me to ideas and concepts that excite, delight and disturb my intellect are an ongoing challenge to my comfortable habit driven, paper centric decades of traditional reading practices.

The book industry is in turmoil with publishers and book stores closing and the world of publishing is evolving and in the middle of  reinvention. Seth Godin with his ‘Domino Project‘ is pushing the boundaries of what a book is and what the price points should be.

What is a Book Worth?

Valuing the worth of a book is becoming more confusing by the month as self publishing and digital publishing growing by 300% in just 12 months and pricing models are being tested and trialled to define price pressure points and determine distribution boundaries.

On the question of price?

  • Do I pay $4.99 for a Kindle book or $9.99?
  • Is a “How To” PDF book worth $99?
  • Is a hardcover book worth $49 or $59?
  • Is the appropriate value of a paperbook $19.99 or $29.99?

These questions all come into play when authors now have ready access to a web centric global market that is measured in the billions and the law of scarcity is being replaced by the principle of abundance.

Is a 400 Page Book an Obligation?

A 400 page book is an ‘obligation’ for a society that is time poor. Do Gen Y have the time to read or enjoy a book for a quiet 2 hours when everything is about ‘now’ and 2 minute YouTube videos and 400 word blog posts? The digital age that wants it instantly and cannot wait is permeating and changing our culture habits and paradigms.

A $9.99 book delivered in a Kindle format is an ‘impulse buy’ and can be sold in the tens of thousands. If you don’t like it then it has only cost you the price  of a couple of cups of coffee.

Niche Books are Now a Profitable Venture

Books that were not worth publishing when distribution was expensive and markets were local can be extremely profitable when digital distribution costs on the web approach zero and a niche in your city in the 100’s becomes a global market in the tens of  thousands.

Bloggers with audiences and subscribers in the hundreds of thousands can take micro content (posts) and then edit and aggregate and produce macro content (books). No longer do you need to wait for a publisher to discover you and “pick you” to publish, you can curate, connect and lead you own tribe of fans, readers and viewers and wrangle your own audience. The social media aware author and blogger who understands the power and leverage of having 1,000’s of people ‘Follow’ you on Twitter and ‘Like’ you on Facebook can have a tribe of fans that can launch and promote their own book without waiting to be picked by a publisher.

Maybe a self published $9.99 Kindle or eBook that is a impulse purchase and sold to a potential digital global audience of billions as the world becomes increasingly connected on fixed and mobile devices is a good idea. Maybe a very profitable book can be sold for $2.99 if you sell it in the tens of thousands.

What do you think?

More reading

Image by libraryman

Comments

  • http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sherryandrea/2011/05/25/empathy-want-to-know-if-you-are-an-empath-1 Sherry Andrea

    Great article! Ebooks and Kindle books has changed things greatly for me. They are less expensive so I more easily get the books I really want. Now I find I am reading more once again.

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

    I loved this post and my own memories of voracious reading!  Makes me nostalgic for those simpler days. 

    Certainly I believe the book is alive and well and more wondferul than ever. Technologies like the one featured in the video will make this truly come alive for our childrne and I can;t even imagine what our grandchildren will be reading!

    There is one other significant book type you left off yrou list, that is also changing the dynamics greatly — the self-published book.

    I decided to self-publish my book The Tao of Twitter (www.thetaooftwitter.com) primarily because I did not want to go on a promotional book tour demanded by the big publishers. It has been a wonderful experience. Publishing was relartively easy, the publication (both soft cover and Kindle) are high quality and the book is selling brikly and helping a lot of people.

    This on-demand style publishing is also revolutionizing books, Jeff, in a very healthy way!

    Thanks for the shout-out. I continut to be amazed and inspried by the quality of your content!

    Your fellow book fanatic and friend,  Mark

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Mark for your comment. I think the future is bright for book fanatics and self publishing and I am heading down that path myself in the next couple of months.

  • http://blog.esimplestudios.com Gabriele Maidecchi

     While I definitely think digital books are the new face of books, and they are going to grow more and more, I do miss mainly the exact feeling of how far you are in your reading, as you mention. It’s some sort of instant gratification when you reach the half of it, so to say. The recent move by Amazon of converting eBook pages into real book pages (corresponding page numbers and all) goes in the direction of closing this gap among other things, but the “real feeling” is not there anyway. Something you can live without, sure, but still.

  • Anonymous

    A very profitable book can be sold at $2.99 if you sell it to tens of thousands?

    Give 30% to the channel, 15 % to marketing. That leaves you revenues of $75k on sales of 50,000. Unless you can write more than one book a year, every year, that’s just a job. If you need an assistant or staff for research, editing, production, permissions, pr, and legal it might not even be profitable.

    And were assuming here that sales of 50k are assured, and not considering net present value discounts or risk premiums.

  • http://www.aspiringmillionaire.com Aspiring Millionaire

    I think it will be interesting to see. I just cannot get into ebooks really. I have a few, but much prefer a real book. I am fortunate enough to have had a publisher see my blog and now have a book set to launch July 1st, so I hope books continue to do well.. Although interestinly enough they said they expect ebook sales of it to do much better than the hard copies, so I would say that yes, ebooks are going to eventually take the place of real books.
    Great article! 

  • George F. Snell III

    This is a terrific post, Jeff.  Although one question I have: is an interactive iPad application really a book?  I’d argue that it isn’t.  Strictly speaking a book is a written or printed work consisting of bound pages.  It is meant to be experienced in that format.

    Electronic “books” bundled with video, hypertext, games, Flash, etc… are new ways of telling stories, but can’t really be called books anymore.  Just a thought.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks George for your comment. I agree with you and it is the point I am trying to make in the post that it is fact not a book but it is more about technology. A book is written by one person not an engineer or a video producer/director

      • http://peter.evans-greenwood.com/ Peter Evans-Greenwood

        We probably need to set aside the term “book”, just as we set aside “codex”. We have “narratives” (linear arguments or stories deliberately shaped to tell you something specific) and “hypertext” (non-linear information collections around a topic that you can explore in your own way). Each has its strengths and weaknesses. A lot that was hypertext has been historically forced into a narrative, as that’s the structure that a book (i.e. codex) supported most efficiently.

      • http://peter.evans-greenwood.com/ Peter Evans-Greenwood

        We probably need to set aside the term “book”, just as we set aside “codex”. We have “narratives” (linear arguments or stories deliberately shaped to tell you something specific) and “hypertext” (non-linear information collections around a topic that you can explore in your own way). Each has its strengths and weaknesses. A lot that was hypertext has been historically forced into a narrative, as that’s the structure that a book (i.e. codex) supported most efficiently.

      • http://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/ Ryan Tracey

        I too have been ruminating about this recently – “When is an e-book not a book?” http://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/when-is-an-e-book-not-a-book/

        My conclusion is that it’s probably just semantics. In this digital age, when convergence is inevitable, labels become inconsequential.

  • George F. Snell III

    This is a terrific post, Jeff.  Although one question I have: is an interactive iPad application really a book?  I’d argue that it isn’t.  Strictly speaking a book is a written or printed work consisting of bound pages.  It is meant to be experienced in that format.

    Electronic “books” bundled with video, hypertext, games, Flash, etc… are new ways of telling stories, but can’t really be called books anymore.  Just a thought.

  • http://peter.evans-greenwood.com/ Peter Evans-Greenwood

     Nice post and I like the comments, but the line:

    Do Gen Y have the time to read or enjoy a book for a quiet 2 hours when everything is about ‘now’ and 2 minute YouTube videos and 400 word blog posts?

    got me thinking.

    Many books have very little inherent value. The pulp fiction you buy at the airport or the Six Sigma for Dummies are often just thrown together and you’re just getting them to waste time on the plane or get a quick overview of the topic. The former is being replaced by low price ebooks, and the later by Wikipedia et al. Neither of these use cases justify a high price tag or heavy investment from the author, so the reason we made them into books is that this was the only way the information could find distribution, historically.

    Some books build a longer narrative and usually bring some insight on a specific problem or world at large. These books can justify being 400 pages or more, as it often takes that long to build their argument. Over these 400 hundred pages they bring a unique value which might range from how you think about yourself and society (as Peter Singer often does) through to showing you how to make your business more successful (which the 1% of business books which are not all hype do).

    So, are the people who cannot (or will not) consume these high value books putting themselves at a disadvantage? If all you’re ever doing is reacting to information that happens to follow your way, then you cannot claim to be in control of your own destiny. The challenge is, as always today, to know where to invest your time. Some ideas require the effort but the reward is worth it, and a short blog post of TED talk just doesn’t cut it. Living of quick, easy and cheap McMuffins might keep you going in the short term, but you might regret it later when you no longer fit behind the steering wheel.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for the Fantastic and insightful comment. This might spark more conversation and responses

  • http://vizsource.info/ Kim Davies

    Hi, Jeff. 

    I can’t exactly remember where I saw you the first time, but I just knew that I wanted to mosey on over here. :) And now that I did and caught sight of this post, I am not disappointed. I may be a newbie blogger, but I am a certified bookworm. Been reading books since I was five years old and never stopped since then. 

    Even with the Kindle and the iPad, I still love to go to bookstores and buy paperbacks and even a hardbound book once in a while. I don’t care how advanced books are now getting to be. I still love to feel the weight of a book in my hands. I love the smell of paper when I am reading. There is a certain warmth to a paperback that the cold feel of the iPad or Kindle could never replicate.

    However, I think I get what you mean about online businesspeople using ebooks as means to market their services or products or to let people know more about their insights. It’s cheaper to produce and easier to distribute. But, really, I’d rather hold a tangible book in my hand about the secrets of marketing than read it on a screen. 😉

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for your your personal insights which validate a lot of other people’s passion for a “real” book. I like both but the convenience for a reader to download in seconds is compelling.

  • http://www.taleist.com Steven Lewis

    Thanks for a very interesting post, which I reached courtesy of @openid-26089:disqus . 

    It’s funny you say that you like to know how far you are through a book and it doesn’t work for you on a Kindle. I love the Kindle’s percentage complete bar because that’s always been my MO: looking at the number of pages I’ve read and working it out as a percentage of the total. Now that’s done for me, it’s perfect. Not the same I guess as feeling (literally) how far through the book you are; maybe it’s the data-lover in me.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jeff, Truly interesting post! Thanks! I’ve got lots of comments of course, but would like to focus on this one: This kind of evolution or trend applies not only to books but media in general. That’s why questions like “What’s a book?” and “Is a 400 Page Book an Obligation?” highly relevant.
    I’m pretty sure that the evolution of magazines and papers are heading in the same direction, and who know, maybe even merges with the book. And none of these might be products anymore but processes…

  • http://twitter.com/mock_ing_bird mock_ing_bird

    The ebook market is a mess at the moment. The scramble to offer freebies and uber-cheap novels means that the reader does not want to pay $9.99 for an ebook. Take a look at this piece by J Konrath on the state of the market today. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/01/self-pubbed-author-beware.html
    There will always be a place for physical books, but the way forward for some of us is the concept of transmedia; of which eBooks and what Mike Matas is demonstrating here, are but the first step. I think looking to the future you will see the internet and webseries taking a bigger role. You will no longer think of the book and the film and the marketing strategy and the associated spin off tv series. These will not be separate entities. Perhaps we are seeing the forerunner of Star Trek’s holodeck stories?

    We need to walk before we can run, but strides are being make in exploring the opportunities that the advances in technology are affording to story-tellers.

  • http://twitter.com/karenlynntalley Karen Talley Mead

    As electronic documents started to become more popular over hard copies, at first I would constantly print out copies. However, eventually I got used to doing my reading and analysis on my computer, which I now prefer. I can search, highlight, comment, and skip around the document more quickly and easily than I can with a hard copy technical document.

    I think ebooks are similar. At first you want to feel that traditional book in your hand and to see where your bookmark is. Having pages that change with the font size, and not knowing how many there are, can be a little odd. But once you get into it and get used to the percent complete instead of your bookmark, and the feel of a kindle instead of a paperback, accepting the ebook becomes much easier.

    There are still plenty of things I prefer a real book for, but if ebooks were as easy to navigate as documents in Adobe Acorbat, I might not have as many reasons to prefer a hard copy book. Whether or not you want to consider the interactive book in the video to be a book in the traditional sense, it really does improve the navigation throughout the ebook, which for me, I find to be one of the main downside to ebooks.

    I am currently working thorough self publishing my first ebook, but the lack of control over the formatting is making me crazy! I think a more simplified version of the interactive book provides some interesting options for the future of ebooks.

  • http://twitter.com/silly_mummy Silly Mummy

    Ah the possibilities! I hope some day I can come up with something to turn into an ebook for my blog.

    i like both but paper books look good on bookcases! I can’t imagine my house without a bookcase.

  • http://twitter.com/silly_mummy Silly Mummy

    Ah the possibilities! I hope some day I can come up with something to turn into an ebook for my blog.

    i like both but paper books look good on bookcases! I can’t imagine my house without a bookcase.