Friday, February 15, 2013

E-books: Present and Future

Earlier this week, staff from Chinook Arch headquarters and a number of our member libraries participated in a webinar about the 'present and future of e-books.'  We listened to the webinar and then discussed the issues surrounding this 'hot button' topic.  In an effort to generate more discussion or just some 'food for thought,' here are the facts and opinions of the speaker (in black) and the opinions of the group (in red).

  • 43% of American adults report that they have read an e-book, but 88% of those surveyed said that they had also read printed books in the past 12 months.   
  • Many people seem to like the instant availability of e-books and don't seem to have trouble finding the content that they want.
  • When asked which format was better for specific purposes, people preferred paper for reading to children, sharing books and reading books in bed.  They preferred the wide selection of e-books available (over paper books), the ease of travelling with an e-book and the ability to get an e-book quickly.  The presenter, Peter Atkinson (St. Thomas Public Library) remarked that on average, consumers are finding a nice balance in their use of e-books vs. paper books. 
  • The average e-book user is on the younger side (18-49) and makes between $50 000 - $75 000/year.   
  • E-book users are more likely to use a library's other e-resources such as databases, attend library events, borrow more than average users (of print and e-books) and buy and read more books in general.
  • Atkinson noted that tablet and e-reader sales are continually rising and he thought it likely that devices that can access an "app store" would be increasingly more popular among e-book readers as there would be no need for a computer intermediary. 
  • Publishers have a love/hate relationship with e-books, they cost pennies (vs. dollars)  to make extra copies, but they come with fears of piracy, fear of libraries and a fear of losing control.  
  • Publishers are losing influence and are being driven more by user demand.  This is part of the 'fear of losing control.'  Any one can use a word processor or online tool such as Lulu to create their own e-book without a publisher acting as the middle man. Libraries may have more opportunities to partner with smaller/independent publishers in the future as this becomes a more popular way of publishing.
  • Devices are moving towards better quality, lower price models with more functionality.  Devices that act only as e-readers will most likely be a thing of the past.  E-ink is the only real barrier at present to going away from e-reader only devices.  If a company can come up with a way to make an 'e-ink setting' then this will become the reality.
  • E-books themselves may become more interactive and more 'social.'  Kobo already has "Reading Life" that allows users to post directly to Facebook, share passages with friends, track usage, earn badges and compare with other readers.  There will likely be more and more of this over time. 
  • Kobos, Nooks and other readers are already collecting data on usage - for example - "the average Kobo reader finishes the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy in seven hours; about 57 pages an hour."  This type of information is very valuable to publishers as it tells them when and for how long, etc. people are reading. 
  • Future e-books may contain more graphics and photos, touch screen actions, embedded video, sounds and personalization (your name in the book, etc.).  There is already a website for readers who would like a soundtrack to go along with their reading -
  • Many books for children are already available to download with extra features like moving animals and sound effects.  Children really seem to love these extras, but it seems less likely that adults would feel the same way.  Generational differences are obvious - kids/teens may like interactive and social media aspects more than adults who may want to escape from being 'always on.'
  • Atkinson theorized that there might even be 'bonus features' (like on a DVD) to go along with e-books. Extras like author interviews, alternate endings, deleted chapters, etc. would be meant to enhance the reading experience.  
  • Most in the group agreed that they would not enjoy stopping their reading flow to watch a video or other extra content.  It was also mentioned that this might ruin the imaginative process involved in reading whereby people generate character and setting images in their own minds.  Additional content if made available shouldn't disrupt the narrative.
65% of library patrons don't know their library even has e-books and e-book checkouts are still less than 3% of total checkouts.  Will this continually increase?  Probably.  What will libraries do when 10% or more patrons want e-books?  Atkinson suggested that some libraries would perhaps not need a building at all in the (distant) future.
Without paper books users would lose serendipitous opportunities to find new books that now comes from browsing the shelves.  Access to information would be controlled even more by publishers and by what they decide to make available in e-book form.  
The group did not agree with Atkinson that library buildings will cease to exist as they remain one of the last public spaces and are valued as such.  If libraries bought fewer paper books there would simply be more space for programming, seating areas, computers, etc.

Both e-books and paper books will continue to co-exist for decades to come until publisher greed causes e-books to dominate the market.  

If you would like to add anything to the discussion or if you were there and I missed something, please share it in the comments section.

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