Cover Story: Embracing a Different Publishing World
NS: What percentage of your total revenue is generated from print books? What about e-books?
Pfund: This is the veritable chase after a moving target. … We're chasing the print train downhill while chasing the online train up, and it's not easy to see how fast each is going, especially given the way in which the financial crisis has muddied some of these trends. At present, on the book side, we take in about $1 in online revenue for every $19 in print; but this will likely be obsolete by the time this publication goes to press. And that 1-to-19 ratio pertains only to books. If we add in our [other] online products, that online percentage is already well into the double digits.
NS: What do you anticipate those percentages to be in two years?
Pfund: Again, very hard call. I would think 15 percent to 20 percent online, 80 percent to 85 percent print, but that really is just a personal guess. …
NS: What about five years?
Pfund: Thirty percent to 35 percent online, 65 percent to 70 percent print.
NS: Do you think e-books will eventually replace print books?
Pfund: No. We all need to give the book a bit more credit. It's an excellent technology, having been tested over five centuries. …
David Pogue wrote in a February 2009 New York Times column on the Kindle 2:
"So, for the thousandth time: Is this the end of the printed book? Don't be silly. The point everyone is missing is that nothing ever replaces anything. E-book readers won't replace books. The iPhone won't replace e-book readers. Everything just splinters. They will all thrive, serving their respective audiences."
That perhaps slightly overstates the case, since I do think the utility of print books for extractive research purposes (e.g., where a scholar dips in for one bit of information) is radically diminished by the availability of that content in a larger online aggregation of books. …