There have been many wild theories regarding the future of books, publishing and book retail since eBooks became a tangible phenomenon of the industry. For years, we have been talking and writing about how wonderful it would be to be able to travel around the world along with your entire library stored inside an ebook reader, even though many attempts at converting readers into e-readers have failed. Then Amazon came along with its e-Ink Kindle reader, its rich ecosystem and of course the overwhelming power of its e-commerce platform.
Yet, many analysts, publishers, and journalist have made a lot of contradictory assumptions about how, why, and if the eBook would become the standard of the book industry.
Some argue that e-Ink is the key element that pushes consumers into buying and using an e-Reader. Others assume that the success of the Kindle and other eBook projects like Apple’s or Kobo’s relies on the ecosystem that lets the reader purchase and read books and magazines seamlessly. Finally, many analysts would argue that the eBook will only become the standard format when publishers’ catalogues will be widely digitized and made available without DRM (a right management system that prevents piracy but limits the way one can buy as well).
These assumptions are probably too straightforward and one-sided to reflect the reality of the book industry. The only answers that can be drawn are those that respond the needs of the real players of the market: publishers and readers.
Publishers are not very fond of the ebook yet because they don’t know if it will define their future or expose them to the wildest form of piracy. Furthermore, Amazon’s very vocal publicity about self-publishing is not very reassuring for publishers who invest a lot of money in editing, marketing, and most importantly, selecting and nurturing authors and projects. A book is not just the work of an author, but also the process of a whole team, just the way a movie would never reach a theatres if it weren’t for producers.
From the reader point of view, all this commotion around eBook/Print is meaningless. A book is something one uses in many different situations to fulfill different needs: at work, at school, for kids, for cooking, self-learning, thinking, entertainment. A book can be a text book, a coffee table book, an art book, a comic book, a graphic novel, a children book, a novel, an essay, a selection of short stories. Journalists often have a reductive view of the book industry, limiting it to novels and essays but in fact these are far from being the main segment of the market. A reader never buys just a book, but a specific format of book related to a specific use or time for it.
What the reader needs is full access to any book he wants and in a format that is aligned to its use. If I’m a traveller I may consider switching to eBooks for my day-to-day reading of novels, essays or technical books. But I may also appreciate keeping my art and photography books on a bookshelf at home. My kids want play with a book that has texture and sliding panels. As a parent, you need that book to be resistant, waterproof, light, all things that an e-Reader cannot be.
Furthermore, buying a book is buying both an object and its content. You may need to take the content itself with you in the memory of an eReader, but you can still enjoy the look and feel of the physical object in your pocket or on your bedside table.
When keeward started to work on the Books Without Borders project, we had in mind that the need for any kind of book was essentially about getting books from anywhere in the world. This is why we built a logistic and online sales networks spanning more than 7 countries, that is still growing. But then we realized that the format was also a very important element in the purchase process.
Now we sell hardbacks, softbacks, audio books, as well as used books and soon eBooks because we want to cover the needs of our audience and not force them to buy what we have in stock.
The next step will be for Books Without Borders to offer hardback copies as the logical extension of the eBook, for a few extra dollars. We are already offering our readers the option of giving back books they’ve already read because they don’t want to store them anymore, so that other people can benefit for the same book at a cheaper price.
Sometimes you need a beautiful object, sometimes you need practical access to information at all times, sometimes you need something cheap, sometimes you need something durable. It’s just a matter of who, where and why and a bookstore or a publisher can’t decide that for you. The real power should be in the reader’s hands, to decide what he wants and get it all if it’s available.