The book industry is slightly chaotic and in a state of transition at the moment. The death of Borders, rise of eBooks, and publishers running scared makes an interesting mix.
I’ll cover the book industry tomorrow, but today let’s look at the future of books.
The future of physical books
No matter how successful eBooks continue to become, the physical book will never die. There will always be a market for people looking for physical books. It might shrink year by year, but it’ll never go away.
But the books you currently get at the book store Amazon won’t be what they are today – average books for average book readers (in terms of production value, not the contents on the page).
The physical book will likely go the way of vinyl. Instead of being mass produced, we will want something special.
Seth Godin’s The Domino Project has done a fantastic job with limited edition versions of a few of their titles. The limited edition version of Poke The Box is high quality, special, and directed at True Fans.
(The only physical book purchase I made this year out of 30-40 books.)
The Future of The Ebook
Feel like a mosquito at nude beach. I have no idea where to begin.
Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly both have fascinating thoughts worth reading. I’m not sure about Seth’s claims. He might be right like I usually find him to be. Or maybe not. With most of his writing I have a gut feeling of “this is right” but with pricing I have no idea.
Seth Godin’s thoughts (read the whole thing to get proper context):
That means that pricing of the future looks like:
Zero: promo titles
$1: backlist service titles, useful but not irreplaceable
$7: backlist titles from authors you love
$15: current bestsellers
As someone who almost exclusively buys eBooks, I would have a hard time spending $15 on an eBook. Though, this is the current version of the eBook. Tomorrows eBook may look radically different and be worth $20.
His pricing for launching books makes sense. If you launch a book with minimal to no buzz, free works very well. Of course, you’d eventually raise that price as the book caught on.
Could an unknown author whose has a runaway best-seller raise bring the eBook price up toward $15. It seems hard to believe in the current climate. Almost anything above $9.99 and you’re seen as greedy whether it’s justified or not.
Kevin Kelly thinks the majority of eBooks will be 99 cents within 5 years:
I don’t think publishers are ready for how low book prices will go. It seems insane, dangerous, life threatening, but inevitable.
I predict we’ll be there in 5 years, (before the marginal price drops to zero, but that is another story.)
Pricing is obviously trending downward. Even some of my favorite authors have had amazing deals on eBooks. Will 99 cents be the new norm? For the eBook in the current state, it wouldn’t be that absurd. But for amazing books, it would be very difficult to see them end up there. Though marginal cost is essentially zero, you’re still paying for the idea and the opportunity to be changed by the book. That is always worth more than 99 cents.
Formatting / Multimedia –
It doesn’t take that much work to replicate most eBooks on the market. Most don’t have unique fonts, images, multimedia, etc. For my own book I went from Scrivener file to eBook format and into the Kindle store in 5 minutes (video). There is nothing impressive about the formatting of it, but there doesn’t need to be. It probably doesn’t look that different than 95% of the books from Simon & Schuster or any other big publisher.
Very few people have complex ebooks that are visual heavy like David Kadavy’s Design For Hackers that require heavy formatting at the moment.
For future eBooks, we aren’t far away from seeing:
- Integration of photo / video (author bio, character intros, chapter intros, etc). Not to the Al Gore degree, but on a more consistent and relevant basis.
- Twitter hashtags for books. Book who read books love talking about them. Twitter is a chance for a giant book club (Amazon integration of Twitter would be even better).
- Publishing houses being able to offer creative eBooks that are interactive (games, choose your own adventure, integration with the touch screen).
- Social bookshelves – The ability to share books with your notes / highlights. Friends can see what books you’ve bought and what book you’re currently reading. Who doesn’t love to brag a little bit about what they’re reading? Amazon has such a big opportunity to create a community with the Kindle. Call me, Jeff. Or just buy and integrate Goodreads. Half the reason I love Rdio is the ability to look through my friends music collections and playlists. Someone please make books social.
- More crap. Even with gatekeepers there are so many garbage books floating around. Expect much more of that, but also a few gems sneaking through that would have never been published.
Book Length and Format –
Attention is short and getting shorter. Most people who clicked on this link probably didn’t make it down to read this. Few non-fiction books will be able to get away with being 300-400 pages long. With so many options, we’ll be tempted to pick shorter books that focus on a few core topics.
The Kindle single is a great example of this. Ideas presented in a short and digestible manner (and cheap).
Again, all of The Domino Project‘s books can be read in a day. Manifestos tackling a single theme.
In won’t be that absurd to be able to read a book in a day. Even if you can’t, it’s likely the book will be structered for short reading.
Joshua Kaufman’s The Personal MBA is an excellent example of this. Besides being a fantastic book, it can be read for 2 minutes, put down for an hour and read again without losing anything. It’s broken up into tiny chunks, directed at short attention.
Here is the interesting thing about breaking books into smaller chunks – it leads to faster reading. Take a 30,000 word book and organize it into two formats. One in the traditional novel format and the other adjusted to the ADD culture. Same word count, just different format. I guarantee the book with shorter chunks of text would be read quicker.
I know this from observing my own reading habits. When I read on the iPhone, I end up reading more. Because each page is so short on the small screen, the stress of finishing a page is reduced.
So here is a brief glimpse of where I think books are going. With eBooks were in a transition period. For the most part, they look exactly like the physical book, but just translated for the screen. Expect that to change in the future.