The ebook revolution has been postponed. At least, according to a this Wall Street Journal article. It shows that sales for ebooks and ereaders are slowing…and that when surveyed, people aren’t really reading ebooks.
Who knows if this is just a lull, but they do posit some interesting theories.
One is that books for decades have already come in multiple media–paperback, hardcover, audiobooks–and that digital could just settle into being just another complementary version. Audiobooks are a great example, actually. They have a rabid following and are relevant enough that publishers put out those products, yet they are hardly even close to the main focus of the industry.
Another idea is that tablet computers are killing ebooks. This one’s pretty fascinating for being nonintuitive. Basically, people are choosing multipurpose tablets over single-purpose ereaders. Makes sense. Why invest so much money in something that does only one thing when you could get so much more from a tablet? The thing is, every time you turn on a tablet, you’re faced with a range of activities…movies, games, chat, Internet surfing. Books lose that competition every time.
Obviously, we need a much longer timeline to see who wins between print and digital, and it’s really hard to believe that digital wouldn’t end up succeeding over the long run. All other forms of personal entertainment have long gone digital, after all.
Still, the fact that it’s still struggling to happen, even after all the advances in the past few years, is extremely telling.
Right now, I can only chalk it up to two things:
First, the cost. Digital books, at least from professional publishers, often cost the same as physical ones. Compare that to the music industry where it went from $20 for 8-10 songs to 99 cents per. Digital movies are a little bit trickier, what with the theater and rentals and all that. Certainly it lowered the cost in some major ways. My Netflix account is $8 per month for thousands of movies.
Second, is the experience. With movies and music, you never directly interacted with the media. Close your eyes, and aside from quality, you didn’t know whether you were listening to a CD or a tape or a record. Same with movies, you look at the screen, not the cable box or the Blu-ray player or the VCR. With books, you interact right with the media, hold it in your hand and turn every page during the experience. And it’s an experience most of the world is used to and comfortable with.
Still, there’s no completely convincing reason why ebooks shouldn’t start predominating (other than the fact that we call them ebooks like it’s 1999). But if this trend continues, they just might have to be shelved, regardless of their merits.
And that would just be embarrassing to this Digital Age.