What the e-book thing and the self-publishing thing have shown us is that what’s commercial and marketable will still be what’s commercial and marketable whether it’s self-published or traditionally published. The people who are going to make money off self-publishing are those working in identifiable genres and telling stories that appeal to a broad audience. And I don’t say this with any bitterness or resentment at all, I wish these people all the success and happiness in the world. I’d only caution those budding writers out there who are thinking about self-publishing their dark, quirky, experimental, non-genre, non-linear opuses, don’t get discouraged when you’re not racking up sexy-teenage-zombie-level sales figures.
But to your answer your original question, I’m always willing to make wild predictions, about any subject really.
First off, bricks and mortar bookstores are obviously dinosaurs slowly lumbering off the historical stage, and the e-book revolution has only accelerated their extinction. And I think that even though e-book sales will continue to grow, overall book sales will continue to decline, so it’s really a question of taking a bigger slice out of a rapidly diminishing pie. This will become more pronounced once dedicated e-reader devices lose their novelty and people start abandoning them for iPads and G-Tabs and Xooms.
I think the death of physical bookstores, the fact that fewer people are reading fiction regularly for entertainment, and the fact that the added costs of physically printing and distributing books require a certain minimum sales volume to be sustainable, all add up to this: pretty soon we’re going to see a shift to e-only release from major publishers at least on a trial basis for books with limited commercial appeal, and then after that inevitably the e-only book will become the rule rather than the exception. Basically, walk into any non-bookstore, like a supermarket or a Walmart or a Costco, and see the kinds of books they stock. In five years time, those will be the only books actually getting printed on tree pulp. There simply won’t be shelf-space for anything else. That and possibly specialty books that could be sold in some other kind of store, ie you could probably still print how-to books about sewing and knitting and shit and sell them at fabric stores, that kind of thing, or the books they sell at Urban Outfitters.
I’m not sure I totally agree with this. For one, print on demand will play some part in this. But also: people are complaining about the decline in readership, but when Amanda Hocking is selling 400,000 books in a month, there’s clearly still a lot of readers. And given her audience is primarily teens, this shows the next generation is still interested in reading. JK Rowling has created a generation of readers. But more to the point: ereaders make reading books both easier and maybe even fashionable. If you can get books more easily all on one device, this encourages the consumption of books. Over time, this could reverse the trend against reading. Take this study with a grain of salt, as it was put together by an ereader company, Sony, but…
A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they’d use the device to read even more books in the future. The study looked at owners of three devices: Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle, Apple Inc.’s iPad and the Sony Reader.
What’s amazing about Kindle commercials is not just that they’re an advertisement for the Kindle, but for reading itself:
Books haven’t really had that kind of PR. At least not since then time when writers like Norman Mailer or Kerouac were appearing on late night talk shows – back when writers were rock stars. For all the gnashing about the inferiority of ebooks vs. printed books, if ebooks can increase people’s interest in reading, the print enthusiasts really have no argument. It might affect how people read – if books are more accessible, they might also seem more disposable – but that’s another discussion. If more people see reading as an option, that’s as big a development as the death of print.