E-Books and the Future of Publishing

I missed this a few days ago, but Timothy Egan has a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times on e-books and the future of publishing.

E-books, and the way they are currently produced and distributed, are not an unalloyed good. They have their drawbacks, but Egan’s main thrust is quite correct. The doomsayers who evoke the specter of a coming cultural wastelands are flat out wrong. There is this:

In their annual report last August, the Association of American Publishers reported that overall revenues, and number of books sold in all formats, were up sizably in three years since 2008. Without e-books, the numbers would have been flat, or declined.

One-fifth of all American adults reported reading an e-book in the past year, according to an optimistic report from the Pew Center. And those digital consumers read far more books on average—about 24 a year—than the dead-tree consumers.

Another surprise: e-book readers also buy lots of paper books. The buyers of digital tomes “read more books in all formats,” Pew reported.

And Egan also notes the resurgence of independent bookstores.

The lesson here is not to confuse the business model with the thing itself. The traditional business model used by publishers is doomed, not publishing itself.

[Tip ‘o the Hat: Andrew Sullivan]

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