What it is: E-book sales are increasing around the world and this trend will only continue.
What helped kill the music industry was that they initially sold vinyl records and cassette tapes. Then they switched to CDs. All this time the music stores thought they were in the music business but they really were in the media business of selling physical products that delivered music to people.
Once digital files became popular, no one had a reason to buy music on media like CDs any more. That’s why music stores shut down because if you could buy the exact same song for less over the Internet, why would you pay far more to buy a CD of that same song that may be filled with songs you don’t even want?
Like the music industry, the book industry is also facing a dilemma. For decades, book stores and publishers were actually in the media business selling information printed on paper. Nowadays you can buy e-books, which essentially contain the same information but without the paper. While sales of e-books in the United States may be slowing and won’t completely replace printed books, the fact that e-books exist at all means that printed books must face competition and this competition is hurting traditional stores and publishers like Barnes & Noble and Wiley Books.
The key is that in the old days, the media was the only way to receive information. In the music industry, you had to buy some type of media (vinyl records, tapes, or CDs) to get music. Now you can get music digitally over the Internet. For centuries, the only way to get information was through printed books. Nowadays, you can get information through e-books or more likely, through search engines on the Internet. When there’s competition, the media-based industries always suffer.
E-books are actually far more popular for fiction than non-fiction. That’s because fiction is often a one-time use. Once you get done reading a novel, you probably don’t want to read it multiple times except in the case of certain classics or favorite books. On the other hand, non-fiction books are more for reference and for many people, the advantages of e-books still can’t outweigh the convenience of having a printed book in your hands.
What’s extremely useful is how e-books are growing in popularity in places like Africa, where printed material of any kind is rare and difficult to find. Just as Africa embraced mobile phones far sooner than the United States (and still leads the world in mobile payments), so has Africa embraced e-books because this allows information to be shared and delivered without the need to store fragile paper anywhere.
If you want to see the future of e-books look at places like Africa where printed books aren’t practical because they’re too expensive. E-books promise to deliver information to people all over the world, and in Africa, the more information, the better. Expect Africans to fully embrace the e-book world and show the rest of the world how the e-book market should work.
E-books are essentially collected groups of web pages containing information on a single topic. Today’s e-books simply duplicate printed text through a clumsy scrolling metaphor, which is like trying to read a novel printed on a papyrus scroll. Tomorrow’s e-books need to more closely embrace the web page design that makes it easy to search and bounce around to find the information you need.
The biggest drawback of paper is weight and clumsy search capabilities. Airline pilots have mostly ditched paper manuals in favor of tablets and e-books because e-books save weight and bulk while also being faster to search. For non-fiction e-books to thrive, they need to more fully embrace the search capabilities of a search engine and provide information organized in chunks rather than long scrolling sheets of paper.
Watch Africa to see the future of e-books. Africa is going to skip the printed book era and jump straight towards the e-book era of information delivery. E-books are coming and will eventually replace printed books for a large majority of purposes ranging from the important (pilot manuals) to the trivial (romance novels). The future is definitely not in printed books any more.