The Unstoppable Tide
Despite these reservations, the eBook does seem destined to leave its dead tree predecessors behind for exactly the same reasons digital music is currently laying waste to the CD: convenience, cost and environmental impact.
Convenience - eBooks are no longer restricted to dedicated devices, they can be read on computers, tablets and mobile phones with the beauty of Reader, Kindle and iBook software being they automatically synchronise your progress. Consequently you can jump between whatever device is most convenient at the time and pick up where you left off.
Cost - while it remains borderline prohibitive at present increasing competition will see the huge margins made on eBook sales reduce and it shouldn't be long before they undercut their paper rivals. Furthermore books out of copyright can be attained for free whereas currently you still need to pay for the printing process on cheap lines such as Penguin Classics.
Environmental Impact - the smell and feel of a book has long been the major argument in decrying a digital future. I'd say this is largely Classical Conditioning, but the most tangible repost is the damage books do to the environment. Currently 35 per cent of the four billion trees cut down around the world are done so for the paper industry (source) and despite promises of a 'paperless office' global consumption of paper has grown 400 per cent in the last 40 years. Yes only nine per cent of the wood used now comes from old growth trees, but surely mass eBook adoption would further reduce this.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It is interesting to see that as I write this Sony has just issued a statement saying it won't get involved in an eBook reader price war with Amazon. I wouldn't take this too seriously. Sony also previously said it wouldn't get involved in netbooks, describing them as "a race to the bottom" and it has now three dedicated netbook lines. Make no mistake, the eBook reader price war has begun and an eBook price war won't be far behind.
Naturally enough there will always be a market for premium devices. Expect touchscreens and Mirasol colour screens to be the trend in high-end eBook readers during 2011, but equally key will be this so-called race to the bottom of £50, £20 and even £10 eBook readers. After all the value in this sector should be your content, not the device you read it on and such budget models would give owners the confidence to breach the paperback's crucial beach and poolside domains.
In 1994 Pulitzer Price winning novelist Annie Proulx was asked about the potential of 'electronic books'. The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain author famously replied: "Nobody is going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever."
16 years later it looks like she couldn’t have been more wrong...