eBooks and the Future

October 4, 2010

Editor’s Note: This blog is the first in a planned multi-blog series where I will look at the eBook industry, eBook technology, and overall eBook market reception.  My goal is to analyze what eBooks mean to the legal market and the publishing world in general.  This is new ground we tread upon, and as such, please take my comments with a grain of salt.  Everything I write is my own personal opinion, so please feel free to rebut if you have differing opinions.  Know also that my views may not be the views of Thomson Reuters.  My hope is we can use this space as a place to discuss important topics, and have fun with this new technology.

Very few topics seem to be as popular (or controversial) these days in the print industry as eBooks, eTechnology, and eBook readers.  This new technology is ushering in a whole new set of questions.  Perhaps most importantly for us (Thomson Reuters): Will our customers ever fully embrace the technology in their day-to-day work?  There are several other questions that need to be answered as well.  To what extent will eBooks replace print books?  What device(s) will win the battle for eBook supremacy?  How will the eBook era affect library costs and structure?  Do eBooks necessitate an altogether different media experience?  The list goes on and on.

Before I can delve into some of the questions above, in later posts, I think it’s important to ask (and answer) one question first:  Are eBooks just a fad?  Will they eventually go the way of the virtual pet or the Beanie Baby?  Are they neat toys that everyone has to have right now, but in the end will sit on a shelf or worse end up in the trash after a few years?  Alright, that’s three questions but the last two are rhetorical.
The short answer is: nobody knows.  However, we can look at historical indicators and use some common sense to evaluate the answer to this question.   I imagine the same questions were asked of the home computer back in the 70’s or the automobile at the turn of the century.  Questions of utility and longevity have long plagued new technology.  Rightfully so, as new ideas often need to be questioned.  In the case of eBooks and eBook readers the questions are being answered every day but the answer is not as clear as one might expect.

It seems likely that no matter how useable the eTechnology becomes there will always be a fair number of hold-outs that will want to use the paper.  There is, admittedly, a certain pleasure derived from the tactile feel of a book.  The smell of the pages, and the heft in your hands as you flip the pages.  I am guilty of having over a thousand physical books in my personal library and I would not want to lose any of them, but I would be happier to read them on my Kindle.  Having the physical book is a matter of owning a physical object.  A thing, if you will.  Having the text on my Kindle is much more convenient and easier to read frankly, but really I own just the idea in this digital format.  This is not a bad thing, just different.  I am still getting used to the idea.

Looking at it logically, it only makes sense that books would follow other media types into the digital age.  Music, movies, and games are all examples of other media types where users have started eschewing the original delivery method in favor of digital ownership.  The switch is not going to happen overnight, but my guess is within the next decade more print will be consumed electronically than through physical print.  We already know that the Amazon.com is reporting more digital downloads (via their Kindle) of content than physical print (http://nyti.ms/c1sYne).  Yeah, I know it’s old news for most of you, but it’s an interesting indicator of the way things are heading.

If you can have your entire library of books at your disposal on one devise, why would you carry one book that weighs 10 times as much and represents less than 1% of your collection?  As technology allows us to interact with books more and more (think: notes, highlights, social media, etc…) the things that hold us to print will disappear.  I like the smell of books, I like the feel.  I like all of the tactile things that a print book can offer.  All that said I like having an entire bookstore at the tip of my fingers and endless reading options all in the palm of my hand even more.

In future posts I want to explore what this move to digital means for print consumers.  The legal industry is as much a part of this print trend as any other.  There is space to grow into, and we can either lead or follow but one way or another we are going to end up committing to eBooks and eTechnology.  I will continue to explore these ideas, new ones, and old as time goes on.  If you have any ideas you would like me to cover, or would like to chat about these things please feel free to either respond here, or email directly at: michael.kraus@thomsonreuters.com.  Happy reading!

Update!  If you would like to see a list of the 150+ eBooks we currently have available, just follow this link:  www.west.thomson.com/ebooks

I (Mike Kraus) am a marketer for the Law School Library group at Thomson Reuters. I have been working with Law schools for over 7 years.  I have a genuine interest in eBooks and technology of all kinds.  Let me know if you have any comments, or questions!