Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Several years back I remember attending workshops on ebooks and the promise of new e-readers at BEA. While most of us could hardly wrap our heads around the promised technology and the plethora of proposed delivery systems, our industry futurists were already prognosticating the future. We heard that the new technology would replace the traditional book entirely. We were told that while older readers would cling to their books, the younger generation would embrace ebooks. After all, they already spent much of their lives interacting with screens.
I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic and while I’m always ready to embrace technology I had my doubts. I had to laugh a couple of weeks ago when we spent five and a half hours waiting to put our kids on a delayed flight out of SFO. Standing at a pillar near us was what looked like a father and son. I surreptitiously snapped a photo to share with you. The son was totally engrossed in a dog-eared copy of an Isaac Asimov novel while the father read his book on his screen. Exactly the opposite of what was predicted.
I’d call that a forecast failure.
Lest you think this is an anomaly, The Huffington Post had a fascinating article early last year citing nine different studies that proved that books– traditional books– are not going away. Some of the things these studies discovered:
- Millennials are more likely to believe that there’s much information only available offline.
- Students are more likely to buy physical textbooks
- Teens prefer print books for personal use
The other findings were equally fascinating– things like students prefer traditional humanities books even if the online versions are free and young people don’t connect emotionally with books they read on a screen.
I’ve experienced some of these findings in my own reading. I’m always an early adapter and have long been a dedicated ebook reader, but only for fiction. If a book is a classic or nonfiction, I must have the hard copy. I just don’t interact with a nonfiction ebook in the same way as I do a physical book. I need the tactile act of underlining (yes, I know how to do it on my e-reader, but. . .) and I subconsciously need the actual geography of a book. I need to know that a passage was on the upper left hand section of a page about one third of the way through. Plus with a traditional book it’s much easier to go back and forth and keep referring to charts or maps.
And, as for ebooks replacing traditional books, so far that’s another forecast failure. In fiction, ebooks grew at an exciting clip in the first few years but reports are that they have leveled off. Happily, even though ebook sales are still good, we are seeing a nice growth in traditional books.
I think the Teacher said it best in Ecclesiastes 8:7 “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?”
What other forecast failures have you observed? From what I’ve observed lately I think the near future is looking better for traditional publishing and I’m encouraged. Do you agree?