A Librarian down in Australia writes about eBooks and Libraries and while he thinks Libraries are at the forefront of the eBook revolution it’s worth taking a non-librarian view of two questions he asks –
Do you think it means the end of bookshops and libraries as we know them?
Will book people have to turn into e-book people to meet the brave new world?
Let’s start with the second question.
Price separates eBooks from Books
At the moment Publishers are trying to get eBooks to subsidize the costs and inefficiencies of physical books.
Let’s put aside people’s emotional preference for paper books (just till the next section) and compare physical and electronic books on price –
- eBooks don’t have printing, ink, and shipping costs (to be precise they’re much, much lower). Approximately 20% of the cost of paper books is eliminated.
- eBooks can be tracked better and risks can be reduced and numbers to print can be optimized. You can literally reduce risk and increase rewards.
- eBooks kill sharing and the used books market – allowing eBook Publishers to price eBooks even lower.
No matter how you look at it eBooks beat paper books on price.
If you have a book in two forms the only reason to choose the more expensive form is if it has some additional intrinsic value.
How much will people pay for their emotional attachment to physical books?
You have some actual benefits – sharing, reselling, decorating, signalling, and so forth. However, the first of those two benefits are factored into lower eBook prices and the latter two require just some physical book purchases.
The biggest reason people prefer physical books is that they are in love with paper and ink.
What premium are people willing to pay for their love of paper books?
Well, not the high premium they would have to pay to sustain physical books as the main form of books.
My argument is that when eBooks are done right they so much cheaper than physical books (40-50% cheaper) that if they were reasonably priced they’d turn hardcovers into high-end items.
- The first clue is that Publishers are desperately trying to keep the price difference between paper books and eBooks low – all via artificial means.
- The second clue is the strong reaction to eBooks and eReaders and the attempts to kill both off – If paper books really are so much better than eBooks why would anyone care?
eBooks are much cheaper than paper books and if the real price difference was reflected in list prices people would not be willing to pay the premium for paper books. They’d still buy paper books – However, paper book sales would be less than 25% of total book sales.
Will eBooks spell the end of Bookstores?
Even without eBooks the Internet and Internet stores were killing physical book stores. Borders is about to go bankrupt and Barnes & Noble is struggling.
Physical bookstores are doomed. Let’s not blame the eBook for something the Internet has wrought.
All eBooks will do is finish the job.
People might like bookstores but they like low prices and convenience more
In a way the fall of bookstores is a preview for what will happen with paper books.
Everyone loves bookstores and browsing and the smell and the experience. Yet more and more people buy books online. People say they love their local bookstore and want to support it and they do – just not enough to keep it in business.
Despite bookstores providing a better experience they are dying – the prices aren’t low enough, they aren’t open 24/7, and they aren’t built for lazy shopping in your pajamas.
They’re the perfect illustration of a model that’s past its time and finally beginning to die. There’s no guarantee that paper books won’t be next.
eBooks will be the final nail in the coffin of bookstores
There’s no way to pretend eBooks don’t hurt physical bookstores – they do. Bookstores were already weak and suffering at the hands of online stores. Now, with eReaders and eBooks there are stores in the hands of readers and Physical Book Stores have an impossible task ahead of them.
Option 1 is a physical bookstore that’s 30 minutes away, has mileage costs, has taxes, has more expensive physical books, and in general is not very convenient.
Option 2 is a virtual bookstore that’s in your eReader, open 24/7, has lower priced books, and has more range.
It’s a fond goodbye to bookstores.
Will eBooks spell the end of Libraries?
It’s unlikely. Libraries are still vital for ensuring everyone can get the books they want.
With eBooks we have books that are cheaper – However, they aren’t yet cheap enough and you have the additional barrier of expensive eReaders. That means ending Libraries or reducing their role would take us back to a time of inequity where only the rich and well-off had access to books.
Let’s first look at the biggest threat to Libraries from eBooks – not death but a huge reduction in influence and scope.
eReaders are a limiting factor
A library with 50,000 books can serve, at least theoretically, 50,000 people at the same time.
A library with 50,000 eBooks and 500 eReaders can serve only 500.
It’s much tougher to serve a large number of people with eReaders and eBooks than with physical books. The only possibility is that lots of people buy eReaders on their own and use libraries for just eBooks.
Libraries need physical books as much as Publishers – perhaps more.
Libraries will need subsidies and very good strategies
It seems ridiculous to suggest that when eBooks take off the role of libraries will be cut to a fifth or a tenth of what it is today – However, it’s quite likely.
Look at all the things Libraries will have to pay for – eReaders, eBooks, licenses, buildings, staff, and so forth. The only advantage eBooks give Libraries is that the Internet Archive and a select few non-profits are actually adding free books. Every other advance in eBooks is a negative and threatens to gradually marginalize libraries.
It’s amazing to see Libraries completely miss the initiatives and changes that are going to kill them. They really need much better strategies. Titling a post ‘Libraries lead the eBook revolution’ is fooling no one.
eBooks are revolutionizing Publishing – It’s about time bookstores and libraries prepared for it
It’s unfortunate to see both libraries and bookstores treat eBooks as a small change – as if it were simply a case of all hardcovers suddenly getting acryclic leather covers that shine in the dark.
eBooks are a very, very big change.
They have the potential to take down the established Publishing power structure and create a completely new world of Publishing. Bookstores have little hope of surviving so they might as well keep believing whatever they like – we can’t do much to help them and perhaps neither can they.
Libraries, on the other hand, have a very good chance of surviving. There are a lot of companies that are doing big, positive things and Libraries can use that and embrace eBooks and stay away from the new breed of middle-men who’ll suck them dry.
It’ll be interesting to see if libraries will go down with Publishers and the existing power structure. Perhaps they will be more flexible than Publishers and survive and thrive. Perhaps they will need bail-outs to survive. Perhaps their role will be reduced to the point that they are no longer a pillar for reading.