John Parsons

When the subject of e­books versus print — EVP, if you will — is discussed, one sees passionate loyalty on both sides. This is good news for the art, science and business of publishing. Such passion shows that this long established format of encoding and exchanging knowledge has captured the hearts of millions who view books as essential to their lives. What it also does, unfortunately, is cloud the real issues. Partisan loyalty to old or new book formats can blind us to what makes a book valuable in the first place.

After years of obscurity, the e­book has become a full-fledged disruption for publishers—supplanting print sales in North America and Europe, and threatening to do so throughout the developing world. Influenced by rapid changes in handheld, portable devices, as well as new pricing and supply chain models, e­books represent both problem and opportunity for publishers. Rather than attempting absolute predictions, it may be more helpful to assess the current situation—and the many remaining obstacles to e­book adoption and profitability—all with an eye toward discovering ways for publishers and their partners, at least in theory, to thrive in this new environment.

There’s no need to detail the history of e­books, except to point out a specific turning point: Amazon’s 2007 combining of E Ink devices with its enormous e-commerce potential. The Kindle phenomenon transformed e­books from novelty status into a viable consumer trend, especially for narrative text reading. The big question today is whether the tablet trend marks a similar, fundamental transformation in e­book consumption, or just an incremental step in the process.

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