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Should books go all digital and abandon paper formats altogether?

Updated on June 7, 2013

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The Yes Argument

Yes - absolutely, this is already happening as writers take control of their own creative output. The book industry still operates an old hierarchical model with control concentrated in a small number of players. Five companies account for approx 80% of sales.

Approx 30% of books sold worldwide are sold in the USA, a market where the ownership of computers is 76% of the population, according
to The Economist. The American Association of Publishers reported sales in 2008 reached $24.3 billion

So you have the means and the market !!

A physical book is a luxury for anybody who owns a computer and is connected to the internet, it is an inefficient use of resources. However hardcopy books will remain in production for a long time, for collectors, for the inevitable technical failure, for specialist technical use and for those living in the less developed world.

So Why Go digital

  • Digital allows authors to gain a fairer share of the revenue from book sales

  • Digital negates the cutting room, often major publishers cut books down to what they see as an ideal size from a production or marketing perspective.

  • Digital will usher in a period of intense creativity where any author with ability will rise to the top of the thousands and thousands of publications in the market or at the very least will be able to make a living.

  • Digital revolutionises the product to market cycle - you need a "How to Search Win7" book, it can be ready and out in weeks.

The digital domain is perfect for books which would not normally make it through the publication process due to perceived lack of demand. For example poetry books,

  • Digital allows the introduction of a full range multimedia, voice, video, externally updated sources, additional background material, extended author interaction.

  • Digital can compete in the marketplace if you put in the hours with your Hubpages :-) Facebook, Blog, readings, promotions or specials.

  • Digital removes the hand of the censor, be it visible or invisible.

The No Argument

Well No.... there are a few qualifiers. The digital book is only suitable for those markets where there is a high degree of computer ownership and internet access. At least until there is some form of technological/political breakthrough that will give less favoured nations a more equitable piece of the pie.

No - the world population of computers is approx 1.3 billion with approx 250 million units shipped per year. the number of people in the world is approx 6.8 billion with annual growth of around 130 million. Of these 6.8 billion the UN estimates that 83% can read. Of course in the less developed nations literacy rates also fall.

So without a major change in attitudes, technology, or a sea change geopolitical control it will be a good few years yet before the majority of people in the world can read a digital book.

Whilst there is some fall off in global population (see chart below) the growth in population far outweighs the growth in computer ownership, especially is less developed countries.

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    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 5 years ago from NYC....

      Antoni Vi .. whilst you are correct in what you say the reality is that the digital genie is out of the box and so really any enterprising producer of digital creative content can compete in what is increasingly becoming a level playing field... I would put it to you that it is almost impossible to block you or to deny you in this digital domain... ok you will have to work for coverage and recognition but this is inevitable online or offline... Thanks for the comment !!

    • profile image

      Antoni Vi 5 years ago

      The concept of ownership is one that's often ignored unfortunately. Producers of digital media like to act like you don't own it. That you're merely renting it at full price.

      A lot of these ebooks readers have backdoors essentially, like the Kindle. They could remove all of your books that you legally bought if you 'violate' some obscure rule in their EULAs. Or with they make a 'mistake' like with the 1984 (ironically) incident. This has happened with things like Steam and XBLA also. If memory serves, they don't even have to give reasons to block you (and stop you from playing all the games you legally bought).

      This type of absurdity would never happen with physical media of any form. I shouldn't have to 'log-in' to 'validate' that games I legitimaely bought belong to me. That's the problem with digital distribution and it's why I will never support it again. It's foolish to do so.

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 6 years ago from NYC....

      Doris... thanks, yes I agree, there is so much activity now in electronic space.. talent + hard work will always rise up. Whilst I read a lot in digital probably one of the best things in the world in winter is to sit down at a decent fire with a good book... :-)

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      "Digital will usher in a period of intense creativity where any author with ability will rise to the top of the thousands and thousands of publications in the market or at the very least will be able to make a living".

      To that I say absolutely! I foresee a strong growth in creativity as technologies merge.

      I also see children's books being around for a long long time. You can't "scratch and sniff" a digital book...

      Great hub and I've bookmarked this for the future!

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 6 years ago from NYC....

      yes Eileen I agree 100% and will always prefer printed to electronic... I can never read it 'properly' without having it in my hand...

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      no no no no never, You cannot beat laying or sitting with a cuppa and read a paper back book. We get enough at looking at screens. Get back to the smell and feel of the old paperback book.

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 8 years ago from NYC....

      Hi Neil, thanks for the very good points, I love physical books too and much prefer to read from the page, not the screen but it does seem a little wasteful if one already has the technology needed. I suppose there will always be a question of trade-off, on one hand it is the batteries and signals and on the other the use of resources. One could write a book about it :-)

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 8 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      I personally do not think technology should replace paper books. E-books are awesome, but there is still nothing better than sitting quietly with a good book. On the top of a mountain - at a cabin - by the lake or in your favorite chair a good book goes anywhere. No need of batteries (which are poison to land fills) - no need of more electronic signals in remote places (micro waves are now being studied - so many waves in the air it may be killing bees) - I could go on!.

    • Drax profile image

      des donnelly 8 years ago from NYC....

      Hi Singular Investor, yes you're absolutely right, I pity poor kids often carrying a bag that is bigger than them. It really is shame that this old equipment cannot be recycled better.

      Thanks for the comment...

    • Singular Investor profile image

      Singular Investor 8 years ago from Oxford

      Ebooks will replace a lot of textbooks I think - which kid wants to carry around 20 kilos of textbooks when they can fit them all onto one Ebook Reader - the only problem is of course that pretty soon the landfill sites will start fillin gup with old ebook readers to join the old PCs and televisions and playstations etc...