News room: When will eBooks overtake print books?

When will eBooks overtake print books? by Anna Lewis

There is an article in the daily telegraph today which quotes Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s digital reading business division as saying:
bq. “Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content. Three years ago, I said within ten years but I realised that was wrong – it’s within five.”

He states that the book industry is experiencing the same kind of shift that the music industry has experienced in terms of digitisation.

It’s interesting that he has reduced his figure by half (although by my calculations,, if he made the original prediction three years ago, then he has only shaved two years off!) – there was another article in the Telegraph published not too long ago titled The majority of Britons are still ‘wedded to CDs, DVDs and books’

In this article, in a survey of over 1,000 consumers aged between 16 and 60, ninety-five per cent of respondents stated that they still prefer physical books over e-books. That is fairly huge. Preference may well have to give over to practicality and convenience as the world becomes increasingly digital focused, but even converting just half of those people over the next five years will be quite a challenge.

As the producers of an eBook reader, Sony do have a vested interest in making everyone get on the digital books wagon as quickly as possible, but I wonder if it will really be that soon. When you are working in the publishing and technology industries on a daily basis and constantly meeting with people who work in a similar area it’s sometimes difficult to get a feel for what the much wider population think. You are surrounded by early adopters – so the perception you get can be slightly warped.

I’m definitely in favour of digital books becoming more easily available and nicer to consume, and with the huge variety in tablets, electronic readers and eBook selling platforms that that we are starting to see , that is happening rapidly. We’re also seeing publishers approach books in a much more imaginative way when it comes to making digital versions (i.e. making more interactive). I think that any technology that makes it easier to access a book is great. But you still have to be able to read the book the way you feel most comfortable with, especially if you are reading for pleasure rather than work. I think there is still a long way to go before many people become ‘wedded’ to digital books so there is certainly plenty of room for print books in the foreseeable future.
Based on my own anecdotal evidence, when I tell people outside the publishing industry about running a website that makes books available online, one of the first things they generally say to me is, “but I prefer reading from a real book” (as if it’s a guilty secret!)

I’d love to know what others think – will it be five years, more or even less? (If you have any insider knowledge about developments in ebook technology or iPads then that is also welcome!)

Also worth noting is that Sony have also announced that they are going to sponsor a new category in their Dylan Thomas Prize – the Sony Reader Award for unpublished writers. I couldn’t actually see the rules for submission for this on the website but I’ll keep an eye out!

2 Posts

    Oliver Brooks


    04 Jun 16:18

    I think it is hard to say what will happen. I love the idea of interactive books which you can always have access to and I love the idea of one device for all. I I think if technology stayed as for the next 5 years the Sony execs prediction is way off. However, the thing is technology is it is improving at an exponential rate. 5 years ago you probably wouldn’t believe that phones would be a serious way to browse the internet or navigate to your destination but now it is common practise. I wouldn’t put it past the likes of Apple, Nokia, Google or Microsoft to come up with a game changing device. They have all got the people and networks to push a product into the mainstream.

    So if something amazing happens (I’m hoping for expandable/rollout/projector screens on mobile devices) it could happen quicker than we think. But even if something amazing happens I think at the very least there will always be place for a paper book as a luxury version or a present.

    Alan Baker


    05 Jun 13:47

    Interesting. I think people still prefer physical books because 1) we’ve been using them ever since the invention of the printing press and 2) because we are biologically hardwired to interact with physical objects. Also, books are inherently beautiful objects, quite apart from their contents. If I ask myself what I’d rather have, a room lined with books or … a Kindle, I know what the answer is.
    Personally, I hate reading text on a screen, I just can’t stand it; to me it runs completely counter to the physical and mental impressions I’m used to receiving from the act of reading (pretentious I know, but there you are).
    Re. Oli’s comment about waiting for something amazing to happen, you know what I think would be very cool? If holographic technology developed to the point where the e-reader device was actually a projector, which could project a virtual object visually indistinguishable from a physical book into the air directly above it. Its memory could contain hundreds or thousands of books, just like the ones we have now, but without the screen. I might buy that. Incidentally, this isn’t quite as science-fiction as you might think. Check out the following link:

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Written by
Anna Lewis
Published on
Ebooks, print on demand