eBooks: The Only Books?

The growth of the eBook industry, and the consequences for traditional book publishers, eBook reviewers, and individual entrepreneurs.

Way back when the internet first learned to walk there was a famous aphorism encouraging it as it took each unsteady step: “Information wants to be free.” Well, while the internet is not old by any stretch of the imagination, it is now upright, sturdy, and racing ahead, two legs strong and insisting: “Information wants to be on the internet!” The resounding boom of this proclamation initially caused other information-related industries—namely print media and publishing—to backpedal or just plain shake. Newspapers, luckily understanding the ramifications of the internet, quickly steadied their nerves and appeared online, first as supplements to their printed versions, then vice versa as their primary mode of distribution. Books, on the other hand, appeared slowly, initially at a crawl, but seemingly overnight are like the internet itself, already running.

In increasing numbers, books are now digitized; i.e. becoming eBooks. Though industry numbers vary, some sources already place eBook sales at 35% of the overall total of yearly book sales.

Book reviewers, likewise, increasingly shift their critical gaze away from traditional hardbound and soft-cover books to eBooks, which either appear solely in digital format, or as alternatives to their tangible world counterparts. And not only do eBook reviewers now regularly give resoundingly influential thumbs up or down to specific eBooks, but entire websites are available to review, catalogue and otherwise provide information on eBooks in an increasing number of categories. In fact, the breath of reading materials contained within an eBook’s pages already exceeds traditional (and at present most sought after, and thus lucrative) self-help eBooks to encompass even literature’s canon (formerly only found gold-leafed and leather-bound) from Homer to Shakespeare.

Monster search engines, with Google™ of course leading the charge (and Yahoo!, Microsoft’s MSN, and bookseller Amazon.com in tow) are years into developing systems that will digitize the printed word. Despite copyright infringement lawsuits hurled like spears from traditional book publishers, steps have been taken to digitize several large libraries whose collections presently exist in the public domain (thus not subject to copyright law). Microsoft, for instance, is digitizing 100,000 such books from the British Library. Additionally, Random House recently became the first of the traditional publishing behemoths to realize their future, in part, relied upon selling eBooks, and began digitizing portions of their catalogue. Finally, Amazon.com is setting up a cheaper alternative, a “pay-per-view” system not much unlike checking books out of a library for a nominal fee.

In the future, many experts predict, if we read something, it will be read online and online only. Trusted offline information will be digitized to replace currently less trusted online information. Access to information will even be available for purchase piecemeal to accommodate specific needs and interests. Examples include a chef’s recipe without his or her entire cookbook, a Bible verse without both testaments, a single chapter relevant to a student’s research, and access to the foreign city a traveler will visit without lugging the guide for the entire country abroad.

But what is wonderful for the average Joe and Jane, Smith or Jones about the digitizing of information being but in its most nascent stages, is that opportunities abound for them to become primary movers and shakers, pioneering and (thus) profiting from this revolution. Now is the time to digitize the stores of information and know-how that you already possess. Don’t know what I mean? Check out the wealth of information accumulating daily on eBook review websites to read how hundreds of others did exactly this: turned what they were good at or what interested them into an eBook now sold to and shared with likeminded people wanting to learn or benefit from another (and perhaps former!) Joe or Jane, Smith or Jones’ expertise.

Otherwise, not interested in entrepreneurship? No problem. eBook review websites are still a wonderful place to begin your search for information. There are links to not only individuals selling eBooks they wrote, but to eBook exchanges and sellers promoting libraries worth of eBooks in an astounding number of diverse categories. Either way, you’ll be onboard, running ahead with the knowledge that not only does “information want to be free” but it “wants to be online!”



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