The 3-Format Future of Books
In the not-so-distant future, say 10 years from now, books will be sold in three main formats: e-books, cheap print-on-demand paper books, and specialty hard cover collector editions.
Digital readers are becoming cheaper every day. The Kobo is priced affordably at $149 and the magic sub-$100 price point is coming very soon. At the same time, digital readers are also getting better: better screens, better graphics, color eInk options, wireless and Bluetooth capabilities, and more memory for more books. Although the iPad may not crush the Kindle, it introduces a different kind of experience complete with audio, video, and virtually anything else you want to add. The environmental/green angle of digital books is also a great selling point. Kobo (formerly Shortcovers) was created in 2008 for a digital book market that was expected to account for 5-10% of all book sales within five years. Now the estimate is as high as 95% in 10 years. Add it up and digital is the future of books.
2) Print-On-Demand Books
Some people will still want their “beach-proof” copy of a book or something they can mark up in the margins. Technology like the Espresso Book Machine has made it cheap and easy to print single copies of a book, available in minutes from your local bookstore (yes, they will still exist), Costco, or even the public library. The difference is that these books will be produced digitally, then output to a paper format for a small group of buyers. They still make vinyl records after all, so we won’t be done with paper for a long time.
3) Specialty Hard Cover Collector Editions
Back in the old days of publishing, there were two types of books published: inexpensive paperbacks meant for mass consumption, and leather-bound hard cover books that only institutions or the wealthy could afford. The latter were as much to be collected and displayed as to be read. Well, what goes around, comes around. J.K. Rowling may have single-handedly created the rebirth of the collector concept when she packaged Tales of Beedle the Bard for Christmas 2007, complete with jewel-encrusted cover and handwritten manuscript.
Collector books will have full-colour interiors, embossed covers, and other features that will make them feel like pre-Gutenberg illuminated manuscripts. They will be gifts for people who have everything or decor for people who want to be seen as having everything. They will not be meant for reading, just visual enjoyment. Remember the special edition of The DaVinci Code with all the beautiful pictures? Like that, only more so. Prices will be upwards of $75.
So where will you be in the transition? Leading the wave with your e-reader device or lugging around printed books? As I always tell my 85-year-old mother-in-law, how do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? Just like cell phones 15 years ago (who needs one of those?!?), e-readers are here to stay.