As I’ve alluded previously, I’m not a huge fan (as a reader) of eBooks. I simply love books as physical artifacts to ever switch over — at least entirely — to reading eBooks rather than actual books. Having said that, I think they do offer real potential for writers and readers alike, and I plan to write more about my thoughts on eBooks soon. But it’s no secret that the traditional publishing industry — from publication to retail to consumption — is in a period of turmoil and it’s likely that the industry will look very different in five or ten years.
I do think that we are at the cusp of a transformation in how we publish and read many types of books, and eBooks are driving many of these changes. But I’m a historian, and I looking back and analyzing if what we’re seeing today isn’t part of a much larger set of trends and factors than may appear initially obvious. I’m not a business historian, though I have taught a class on U.S. business history, but I would simply suggest that what we’re seeing in the book industry writ large is probably a good example of what Schumpeter described as “creative destruction” (a term he co-opted and reappropriated from Marx) to describe the economic transformation that innovation can produce. We’ve seen this happen in the case of Wal-Mart across the country, and we’re all aware of the audio cassette/8-track/compact disk/MP3 example.
With that in mind, I’d like to provide a link to an insightful piece by Mike Shatzkin that draws some important parallels between what’s going on now with the early days of mass market publishing in the 1940s-’50s. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s an important piece to consider. If I may paraphrase a quotation that has been misattributed to Trotsky, I’ll just say that while you may not be interested in eBooks, but eBooks are interested in you!
Look for more of my thoughts on eBooks and ePublishing in the coming days.