The Future of Books Essay
1. Introduction Books have evolved greatly since the first writings in clay tablets a thousand years B. C. to nowadays with the digital versions of most books that were, not long ago, only available in paper. Even though stories have been carried and passed from generation to generation since the emergence of language, only until around the fifth century has it been heard about books and their use.
In the antiquity, primitive materials in which to carve such as stone and wood were replaced by finer and more portable materials like scrolls, papyrus and manuscripts, which allowed the writing of longer texts with less effort, and which lead the reading experience reaching an elite minority until the invention of the print. The history of books in modern times is directly related to the creation of the print, in the mid 15th century, by Gutenberg. This invention allowed texts to be translated and diffused, reaching much wider audiences and narrowing the knowledge gap between different social classes.
The first book that Gutenberg printed was the bible, which completely revolutionized the way in which religion was regarded by the then illiterate masses, and which’s impact was then followed by a series of not only religious, but also more general cultural transformations when all types of books were reproduced and made accessible for the people. Printing made it possible for stories and knowledge to be materialized and kept throughout the years. With the advancements of the printing industry, books became easier to publish, cheaper and more attainable to people.
The first printing machine had been made of wood and required a lot of hand labor and time to print, so the available copies of a book were still relatively limited. However, as the years passed, innovators sought better alternatives to wood and created metal and later on iron printing machines, which later on became mechanized, speeding up the printing process and not depending on an extensive hand labor to function. In 1867 the typewriter was invented, facilitating the typing process. With this invention, the price of books became more affordable and an increased number of readers appeared.
The paper book trend lasted for centuries, gaining more audience and strength with each print innovation that was made. From Gutenberg up to the late 20th century, print books had an enormous success and growing popularity. However, with the raise of computer technologies, in 1971 the first digital library was finally created. 2. From Papers to Screens Project Gutenberg was founded in 1971 by Michael Hart, who created the first electronic book ever, with the principle of making literature accessible to everyone and to decrease the levels of illiteracy in the world.
The project gathered the most important books in history in various languages, converted them into an electronic form and made them available to the public for free. This was a turning point in the history of books, since books were no longer read only by those who could afford their price in bookstores, but also by those who did not have the means to buy hardcovers and who now had easy and free access to literature and knowledge. Without knowing, Project Gutenberg started what would become the digital age of books by leading the transition from print books to digital books.
When the advantages and the success of digital books were seen, a whole new market of online retailers began to take place. The emergence of e-books attracted other authors as well as electronics businesses that saw an opportunity for innovation and big profits. Electronic readers were created, facilitating the electronic reading experience and allowing people to read mobile e-books instead of being fixed to big heavy screens. However, during the 70’s and the 80’s, e-books were mainly specialized, and they attracted segments of the population who were interested in a few available topics.
As the internet progressed in the 70’s and the 80’s and e-book electronic reading devices hit the markets, the 90’s Internet advancements allowed the easy spread of e-books from computer to computer through the web, and also the digitalization of a wide variety of genres. This meant that books were made available for people with all tastes and not only for a specialized audience. Reading was able to become a means of entertainment and not only of education and knowledge for the less favored classes, like it had been up to then.
Books went from being expensive and unaffordable by many, to being a commodity of which everybody could enjoy. The higher number of genres and of books in the Internet created an increasing demand for e-books, from which online retailers, such as Amazon, took advantage in the mid 1990’s. Businesses took the opportunity to digitalize books and sell them online for cheaper prices than those of their original paper formats. Another big player in the internet was Google, which decided to pay publishers to digitalize books and make certain parts, if not all of them, available for free.
Apart from the digitalization of books, reading devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Apple’s Ipad show the huge market that was created due to e-books, and the competition that took and still takes place in the digital world for the monopoly of e-books. 3. Reading experience As mentioned above, thanks to the invention of the print, reading became a common activity and was no longer reserved for a privileged majority. As books spread, illiteracy levels dropped and the audience for books became so diverse that it allowed for the distribution of books of all genres for all cultures and tastes.
It was probably thanks to the digitalization of books that sub-genres gained popularity and were not left and forgotten in the shelves of bookstores and libraries. E-books, therefore, revived dead genres and gave an advantage to the ones that already enjoyed from a big demand in paper format. The reading experience has thus changed regarding new audiences reached and more genres available for cheaper prices. Another way in which e-books have benefited the audiences has been through the creation of digital libraries by physical libraries as well as online libraries.
Since e-books do not occupy shelf space and they need only to be stored in databases, it is easy for libraries to organize their digitalized books and for customers to find specific topics and authors. In this sense, the process of finding books has been simplified compared to the regular library systems for non-digital versions. The process of digitalization is a long one but once all books become part of the digital library, they are easier to manage and to distribute when people look for them.
Electronic libraries allow the storage of large numbers of books in a small memory space, without the need of bookshelves, space and a large staff. Thanks to this storage advantage, libraries can have more books readily available and people have a larger choice and are not limited by the physical space of libraries. At the same time, bookstores with e-book archives can save customers time by giving a faster service and avoiding queues and waiting lists for books that for instance, have no yet arrived to the bookstore or due to distances or to a large demand.
Apart from the storage aspects, an important part of the transition from paper to screens has been the unwillingness of certain people to adapt to the electronic forms of books. Hardcover books have been part of cultures for so many centuries that for some people it is not so easy to accommodate to e-readings. The modern world is incredibly digitalized, from music to movies, so the digitalization of books appears to be natural, particularly to the youngest generations. The reading experience between paper books and e-books is clearly different since paper books offer the possibility of reading with more senses alert.
For instance, when reading a handcover book, the reader can feel the pages’ texture and the smell of the book, and can see traits that are not present in e-readers, such as worn out and bended pages, which could be seen as a disadvantage, but they can also give a rewarding sensation to the reader who makes his way through the book and can perceive and appreciate how he gets closer to the end. Another element of the charm of paper books is the unhurried reading experience that they offer. This implies the easiness with which books can be transported and the little it matters where the reader is in order to be able to do his reading.
Contrary to e-readers, paper books do not require battery charging, careful care from bad weather conditions, uploading or downloading of stories, among other factors. Thus, paper books can be said to be simpler to read and to offer a genuine reading experience that only requires a book and a reader. Despite these reading experience factors, future generations will very probably grow being increasingly familiar with e-books, which will be in favor for the expansion of the e-book market and will result in a further shrinking demand for print books.
Children born in the digital age are not be aware of the long way that print books have come from if they are not taught about it, and they probably regard e-books as the initial state of books. Therefore, the reading experience is linked by large to former reading experiences and to the capability to compare e-books to non-digital books from an intellectual and also sentimental or sensorial point of view. 4. Writers and Cost Reductions For writers, the digitalization of books does not necessarily imply negative consequences, since there are several points which are in their favor.
These include the possibility of self-publishing, no need for paper, easy editing, and no surpluses. Self-publishing is a great advantage for writers since publishing houses usually get most of the gains, leaving the authors with minimal profits from their own books. By skipping the intermediary, which in this case is the publisher, writers can put their books up in the internet for sale and get all the profits. This approach does have its risks since the advantage of going public through publishers is that they know about the business and they take care of all the steps.
There is also the advantage of not needing paper, which again means fewer costs and thus, more gains for the authors. Writers can decide to publish their books directly online without having a print version if they do not wish to. This saves writers from the long lasting period of printing and book assembling before their book is launched. Also, no printing means one intermediary less in the process of book publishing. Working with publishers already costs a lot of money, so cutting any price, in this case paper, printing and assembling prices, is helpful for authors.
Related to the paper advantage, is easy editing. Contrary to print books, e-books can be easily edited even if they have been already published; they do not face the inconvenience of having typos that would cost a lot of money to correct. In the case of print books, once the book is printed in big numbers, typos are not possible to correct until the next printings, but by then the public will already have the version with the typos in their hands. Editing also refers to bigger editing other than typos, such as whole passage modifications, which are possible to make in digital versions but not in paper.
Writers can also benefit from the lack of book surpluses that result in money put into the rental of warehouses. Surpluses are very common for print books since at the moment of publishing, authors and publishers make an estimate of the books that will be sold, but they might not always be right or even approximate, due to the quality of the writing or of other external factors. In the case of e-books, no printing is necessary and purchases are done digitally so no warehouses are needed. This saves the authors money and allows for investment in other areas such as the advertising of their books. 5. More Readers for Writers.
Concerning the readers, they have easy access to books and do not depend merely on the prices offered, since paper books usually cost a lot of money. Even if some digital books can be more expensive than others because of publishers, they are considerably cheaper than paper books. Another advantage for the readers is that they do not need to physically move if they need or want to get an e-book. As mentioned before, they have the advantage of avoiding long library and bookstore queues and waiting lists, and they can have access to the book they want directly from the comfort of their home or computer.
These advantages mean that readers look for their books online more readily than they look for physical books, since these require more time, money and efforts. Therefore, writers can benefit for a wider, or at least more active, audience. 6. E-books and Different Genres In the case of the genres affected by the digitalization of books, academic books most probably will not increase their sales and will not be reaching a wider audience, since these books have a specialized audience that does not increase or decrease its demands with the availability of e-books.
On the other hand, novels and books of popular genres like science fiction will most probably increase their demand numbers, since they do not require a specialized audience, but can entertain people from all social strata. Science fiction alone accounts for around 20% of all e-book purchases. At the same time, since digital readings offer the possibility of hyperlinks, search engines, and so forth, within or around the text, these distractions affect the reading quality of novels, but not so much the reading quality of dictionaries and cookbooks, for instance. 7. Concerning Publishers.
Some of the players who are the most affected by the digitalization of books are publishers, since moving to digital forms has reshaped in the way in which books are marketed and also the costs involved and profits earned. Some of the advantages to publishers are the liberation from the constraints of printing and from surpluses of inventories. Another advantage is that older books that stopped selling on print can be published again in their digital form and reach wider audiences because of the cheaper prices, so profits can be made from book print inactive books.
Despite these advantages, the disadvantages are also great. One of the biggest threats of publishing online is piracy, since pirates can easily take the book and distribute it illegally. Another disadvantage is the pricing for e-books in the internet, since different retailers and sellers have at times prices that differ greatly from one another and while big retailers can afford to cut costs and increase sales with some profit losses, small publishers cannot afford such a move. One more important disadvantage for publishers is that there are no more book displays in bookstore shelves that help advertise books.
Publishers try, however, to create advertising for their clients through the social web in order to make up for this downfall. A technique used by publishers in order to keep their print sales alive is called “windowing” and it consists of publishing first the print version of a new book and delaying the e-version to increase the print sales. The idea is not to let people know when the e-version will be available so that they buy the print version and do not wait for the e-book to be published. However, this technique can go wrong and can create losses if the time length between the print and online publishing is not well foreseen.
For instance, if the print book is sold out after a week, when the planned time was two months, then people will quickly forget about the book and once it is finally published digitally, it will not have the same effect it had back when there was expectation for the two publishes. A second technique that publishers are using is the publication of segments of a book, which the public can read, and if they like what they see, they are encouraged to make donations so that the author can finish writing the book and that it can be published.
This is a very innovative idea, since it allows publishers to avoid surpluses, as well as printing if they decide to do this only with e-books. 8. Libraries Libraries are one of the most important stakeholders of the digitalization of books since they are usually decades all and have invested great sums of money on the local, the books, the maintenance, and so forth. For libraries, the conversion of books into e-books is very expensive because even though it is cheaper than storing physical books, there are far more e-books and therefore, the storage in a digital form is more expensive in the long run.
Fortunately for libraries, literature will still be literature and regarded as such, no matter if it’s stored in bookshelves or in databases. This means that library clients would still frequent the library when looking for books, and also because libraries are not just places where books are stored, but also cultural places where people can gather and talk about literature or intellectual topics. At the same time, due to the creation of digital databases, libraries will have to start cutting down personnel and spaces in order to be able to afford the transition to digital forms.
9. Bookstores: Borders In the case of bookstores, they suffer more than libraries from e-books, since bookstores are not a place of consultation but of selling, and when money is involved, customers tend to turn where they can spend the least for the same service. One of the main concerns of bookstores is the low price that is charged for books in e-form, since for the same content there are significant price differences that clearly draw clients away from bookstores to the internet.
Another main concern of bookstores is that the space that is used for storing and displaying print books will not be of any use, and even if they create digital databases to sell e-books in their stores, they cannot compete with online venders since they still need to cover local costs such as electricity, personnel, rent, maintenance, etc. Some of the strategies tried out by bookstores in order to survive the digital age is to host book clubs and social gatherings, as well as selling goods other than books.
In the case of smaller bookstores, since they cannot compete with the others’ prices, have opted for offering writing classes, for instance, in addition to selling books in their stores. These strategies work in some cases but in others they have not been able to save bookstores from collapsing. On July 2011, the American bookstore giant, Borders, liquidated all of its stores after it went Bankrupt in February 2011. Next with its end went 11,000 lost jobs. In an interview to Border’s President Mike Edwards, he says, “Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development.
We were all working hard toward a different outcome, but the head winds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, [electronic reader] revolution and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now. ” It is clear that Borders was not prepared for the digital wave that hit the book industry, and when it tried to react it was already too late. Borders had big stores and advanced equipment to locate books clients looked for.
However, when the digitalization of books started taking place, Borders did not focus on building its own e-book market, but instead it used one of the above mentioned techniques, which was selling other goods, such as CDs and DVDs. It also invested on the infrastructure of its shops instead of taking action in the digital book market. Its main competitor was Barnes & Noble, which has managed to survive and keep up by focusing on the promotion of e-books and on the release of its own e-reader, the Nook, which put it directly into the digital market and which allows it to better promote its own digital books.
There is still much to be achieved and much competition to achieve from the part of Barnes & Noble, but if it continues to accommodate to the digital flow then it is very likely that it will manage to sustain itself. For Borders, for Barnes & Nobel, and for all bookstores nowadays, the big competitors are online retailers, especially Amazon, which is considered to be the biggest e-retailer on the web. 10. Online Retailers: Amazon Amazon was founded in the mid 1990’s and started off as an online book seller. With the years, it started expanding its market to multiple areas such as music, software, videogames and toys.
Today, it sells an infinite variety of products and covers an international market as one of the biggest online retailers in the world. With the emergence of e-books and the enormous competition that surrounded Amazon, it decided not only to sell digital versions of its books but also to launch its own e-reader, the now famous Kindle. Its main adversary in terms of e-readers was and still is the iPad. In order to keep up with the competition and be the number one on the e-book market, Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle to a level where it was making no profits and was in the contrary, creating losses.
The reasoning behind this strategy was to encourage people to buy the Kindle instead of other e-readers, and by buying the Kindle they would be likely to buy the e-books from Amazon too. Up to now, Amazon has been able to keep on competing with Apple, however, both are directed at different customers, since Apple’s iPad is more about design than about e-books, while Amazon’s Kindle is all about the e-books Amazon offers with it. The online retailer has the advantage on making its profits from a wide variety of products and not having to rely completely on e-books only.
However, it is today the biggest e-retailer online and its e-books account for an important part of its success, and thanks to its Kindle and its prices it continues its way to dominating the e-book market. The future of Amazon is tightly related to the future of Bookstores and the future of print books. While Amazon continues to offer low prices for digital books, people will keep on turning to the cheaper digital versions and the demand for print books will keep on decreasing.
At the same time, the international scope of Amazon and its prices make it difficult for bookstores to compete with it, since they rely on books mainly, while Amazon relies on many other products that it sells successfully online. 11. Conclusion The future of books seems to be as e-books mainly, even though the print versions will most probably continue to play an important role in society due to the historical and emotional charge that they carry.
The generations that grew up with print books are not likely to turn to digital forms too quickly, but as every year since the late 1990’s a new digital generation is born, print books will not have the same meaning they have today, just as they do not have the same meaning today as they had before the rise of the internet.
In order for print books to survive, prices need to be lowered, and the most successful way to do this for authors is by self-publishing and reaching the audiences directly. This entails risks, but if print books continue to cost as much as they do today, the demand for them will decrease further with time.
In the case of bookstores, for the moment they have no other alternative than to adapt to the digital market and to try to find other sources of income. Perhaps in the future, once the world is used to e-books, just like it is used to CD’s and not to cassettes today, people will look back and start turning to print versions which will be seen as unique and which might gain back the initial prestigious status that they once had when the print was first created. Works Cited Adam, Nabil R. Digital Libraries: Research and Technology Advances : ADL ’95 Forum, McLean, Virginia, USA, May 15-17, 1995 : Selected Papers.
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