Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mene, mene tekel e-upharsin

Behold the e-writing on the wall.

1. Earlier this month, and Apple joined forces to make's 240,000 Kindle e-books downloadable to the iPhone and iPod Touch. This was huge. The enormous user base for those devices is eagerly snapping up the Kindle material as well as e-books in other reader formats.

2. Shortly afterward, Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise, another e-book retailer, so that the book chain can compete with and its Kindle. Just the other day Fictionwise announced a free e-book reader application for the Blackberry Curve, Storm, Pearl and Bold. Reportedly Blackberry is working on new wireless devices with larger screens optimized for e-book reading.

3. A few days ago Google and Sony announced that Google’s library of more than 600,000 public-domain e-books would now be available for free on the Sony Reader in Sony's ePub format. Sony also lowered the price of its flagship PRS-700 e-book reader to $350, compared to's $359 Kindle.

4. Amid the scores of university presses that suddenly have found themselves in a financial bind -- one, the University of Utah Press, may fold -- the University of Michigan Press is going to e-books in a big way. It publishes about 120 books a year, half of them slow-selling scholarly monographs important to academics but not to the public. It will now bring out most of these monographs as e-books, some of them available as print-on-demand works. UMP will save buckets of money this way.

5. Last week HarperCollins, one of the country's biggest book publishers, announced that it would no longer issue expensive printed catalogs of its wares but instead send them to the book trade as e-catalogs. HC will save bathtubs of money this way.

6. For a year or so several publishers have been sending e-manuscripts of their books to sales forces rather than expensive bound galleys, also called "advance reading copies." From all indications, the sales people love reading manuscripts on their Sony Readers, partly because they don't have to hump scores of copies of books home in bulging briefcases. It may not be long before some (but not all) publishers start issuing new manuscripts from their own web sites as e-books as well as printed ones, bypassing bookstores and independent online retailers. Publishers will save swimming pools of money this way.

Let's face it: the e-book is not only here to stay but also is beginning to muscle its way to the forefront of the publishing industry. Within the next few years the majority of book buyers very likely will be reading more books on electronic devices than on paper.

Does this mean that the printed book is a thing of the past? Not at all. Older readers who grew up loving printed books will keep on buying them, perhaps in smaller numbers as the recession deepens. Illustrated art books won't go away any time soon, although larger and sharper computer monitors down the road will bring Manets and Renoirs and Ansel Adamses to new art lovers. Libraries will keep on acquiring and circulating printed books; as the technological state of the art stands, it will be difficult for them to provide copyrighted e-books in proprietary formats without piracy concerns -- they'd just be too easy to steal.

Get ready for a sea change in your reading life.

MARCH 27: Fujitsu is launching a new e-book reading device to compete with Sony and, according to Publishers Weekly . . . and the "FLEPia" will cost an initial $1,000 when it reaches buyers in Japan. Oy, even if it's in color.


  1. Not to be too picky....
    Are you a time-traveler? This post is time-stamped 12:01am on THURSDAY Mar. 266th. I think I am reading it around 4pm on WEDNESDAY. Or did I blackout? Or is your blog's clock goofy.
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. You know how the May issues of magazines arrive in early April? Same thing. The shelf life of this post will expire at midnight Thursday.

  3. The question that comes to mind is: What about authors' book tours? If there's no book to sign and sell, will they even go on the road for readings? (Won't be any bookstores to visit, certainly.)

    And, if not, then how will we learn about new, e-books?

  4. Got news for you, Pete: The author tour, except for the biggest of the bigfoot best-sellers, died several years ago. Way too expensive.

    Most book signings now are only by local yokels.

    Books, both tree- and e-, will be promoted by talk radio, blogs, online news, etc. But it will be difficult for the midlisters to win attention this way.