Ebooks – dead or alive?

An interesting article in the Bookseller’s Futurebook about the ebook, which 10 years ago seemed to represent the future of publishing and has so spectacularly failed to deliver – at least for traditional publishers. 

Simon Rowberry makes some excellent points about why this has happened, and why the picture is rather more complicated than you might first think. 

First there’s the fact that nobody can tell the size of the iceberg below Amazon’s waterline: 

‘The ‘ebook plateau’ argument also ignores emergent sectors of digital-only sales, including self-publishing, where new genres drive a vibrant and divergent market. Amazon facilitates most self-publishing sales, and the company steadfastly refuses to provide sales data for books published exclusively on the Kindle. So a potential increase in sales for emergent digital-only genres is hidden by the headlines about traditional publishers.’

Second, he reminds us of the startling fact that ebook technology hasn’t really changed much in the last two decades:

Both EPUB and the Kindle’s proprietary format are based on 20+ year old technology in an age of rapid technological obsolescence.’

He raises the interesting vision of ebooks migrating to browser-based content, but admits it’s hard to see how they’ll survive in that format: 

‘How will books cope in the complex attention economy of web browsing? Given the scope of the format, digital books will become just another type of publication to use PWP and as a consequence, the standard will not just serve the needs of publishers, a core design element of EPUB despite its limitations.’