End of the Beginning...

bookshelf_iphoneNo, I'm not talking about the current events in Egypt. Nor are we here at failbetter about to get all religious on your ass. What we're witnessing these days is a business, the publishing business, that amidst our apparent economic turmoil may actually be, or should I say finally be, coming to terms with the future. Ah yes, dear Mr and Mrs Book Publisher, the digital age is here to stay. Of course, some will claim it may be to our own cultural downfall, but others have hopefully put a more humorous and intellectual spin on the possibilities.

Day one here at the annual Associated Writing Programs Conference has afforded me the opportunity to take a look at the many pub colleagues who are finally embracing, or at least, facing the realities of the digital world -- eBooks and ePub, Kindles and mobi, iPad and apps -- all in effort to see to the book's survival. For years, decades really, folks have been touting the supremacy of the eBook and its replacement of our old paper friend...yet the number never backed up such bold statements. Now in the past year alone, those proclamations seem to be coming to fruition. According to the folks at CLMP and more specifically, from the big six publishers taking part in the recent Digital Book World meetings, digital sales put up some rather startling numbers in the past year. Here's just a few facts from US sales alone:

  • 10.5 million dedicated eReaders (i.e., Kindles) were sold
  • 10 million tablets (i.e., iPads) were purchased
  • Strangely enough over 1/3 of the iPad owners also own a Kindle
  • Over 20 million Americans read an eBook in 2010
  • They spent 1 billion dollars on eBook purchases
  • Sales predictions for 2011 are estimated at 1.3 billion

The last figure of course reveals that much of the market share remains in within the pages of the printed book. But while sales continue to steadily decline in that format, the predicted 30% increase in e-sales for this year alone is more than just a trend.

Meanwhile, thanks to Moore's Law, the purchasing price of eReaders has dropped to nearly $100. A few years ago, when an audience was asked to raise their hands if they owned such a device, perhaps only a handful would. In just a few years, those days are no longer the case (certainty not here at AWP). So, even the hundreds of little literary publishers represented here this conference, the supposed “seventh” publishing house of the industry, now find themselves scrambling to make the backlists immediately available in pdf, no longer fighting the simultaneous release of books in both printed and electronic form, and venturing down the path of creating their own direct sales shops via apps that can work on iPhones and Androids.

All that doom and groom that cast a pal over the industry now gives way to hope. As one recent poll suggests, more than 66% of the reading public find themselves reading more because of digital readers. In the ye-olde-digital age, literature will not just survive, it can thrive.