Will ebooks kill hardcovers?

Ben Hall at FT writes from Paris about Hachette’s paranoia that ebooks could spell the end of hardcover books. Thanks to Ed Ditto for mentioning the article.

Hachette Chief’s concerns

There are quite a few juicy nuggets in the article. First, there’s the pointing blame at Google and Amazon –

Mr Nourry (Hachette CEO) said unilateral pricing by Google, Amazon and other e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble could destroy publishers’ profits.

He said publishers were “very hostile” to Amazon’s pricing strategy.

Next, there’s the attack on the $9.99 price point –

On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99.

Retailers were paying publishers more than $9.99 for each e-book, so were selling them at a loss:

“That cannot last . . . Amazon is not in the business of losing money. So, one day, they are going to come to the publishers and say: by the way, we are cutting the price we pay.

If that happens, after paying the authors, there will be nothing left for the publishers.”

These thoughts might be relevant to Publishers, especially ones that don’t adapt to changing times. However, the claim that it could kill hardcovers is incorrect.

Hardcovers are not going to die out

There are a lot of people who love books as physical objects and for all the benefits –

  1. The sensations of reading and holding and feeling a physical book. 
  2. Adding life to your environs; adding to your library; decorating shelves. 
  3. Letting people know who you are, and signaling things like intelligence and taste. 

And many more.

In a world that has a lot of eReaders, hardcovers will keep their position as higher end reading means, will be collected for personal libraries and will morph into even more cherished possessions.

We currently have lots of generations that have very strong associations with hardcovers. If current publishers don’t clean up their act, some new company will spring up to provide reasonably priced hardcovers.

The long term concern for hardcovers would be when the first ‘used kindle and sony in school’ generations start entering the market.

  1. They would have no positive association with physical books.
  2. On the contrary, they would be attached to their ereaders.

That is when hardcovers could start dying out – although its not a given, and its at least 40-50 years away.

0 thoughts on “Will ebooks kill hardcovers?”

  1. There’s another reason hard covers won’t die (but may change), at least in the near future: Certain books can only really be “read” in book form, because the content of them cannot be separated from their formatting and the manner of their publishing. The most obvious (though niche) example is good old pop-up books. But more serious examples include books like the “Griffin and Sabine” books by Nick Bantok, “The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet” by Reif Larsen, “America: The Book” by the writers of The Daily Show, “I Am America, and So Can You” by Stephen Colbert, etc.

    In other words, some books simply don’t translate to the eBook format, and I think that as book lovers by fewer and fewer traditional books and more and more ebooks, the physical books that they buy will increasingly lean towards those books that offer a more immersive or unique reading experience than eBooks can provide.

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