2010 is wrapping up like a 77-0 football game. Many experts are sifting through endless spreadsheets, looking for patterns in the numbers which will help justify their relevance to both the publishing and computer industries. Others are checking their offshore accounts. Still others are drafting wills.
The Association of American Publishers has reported e-book sales are up 192.2% this year to date, according to Lauren Indvik at Mashable. The strong of stomach can read the rest of her summary here. Aside from e-book growth, the AAP also reported largely dismal numbers for September book sales.
Champion of all things digital, Nicholas Negroponte is predicting the book as we know it will be dead in five years. Predictions have always been a risky venture in the technology industry, with the vast majority of pundits getting it wrong. This is one time we hope Negroponte is not on the money, although for the sake of the the environment, an unselfish part of us hope he’s correct.
The news for dead tree editions isn’t all horrible, though. Printed books seem to be making nominal gains in selected categories. Educational titles, for instance, are up, barely breaking the double-digit mark, but they’re still up. Perhaps this is because students are smart enough to realize they don’t want to spend money on educational e-book titles which will be deleted from their eReaders at the end of the semester.
At year’s end, the shakeup in the computer business seems to also continue unabated, just like the publishing industry. With even Ray Ozzie—executive at a company not known for innovation—predicting a period of “post-PCs,” multi-function eReaders are the wave of the immediate future. Pundits on all sides of both industries are pointing to reasons why laptops are being shunned for tablets, with compelling evidence, for example, you never need to take your laptop on vacation again.
At less than a year old, the iPad is still the favored tablet if you want a device which can do more than just display e-books. With Amazon continually improving their Kindle software for the Mac, Team Bezos is trying to cover all bets, even though their Kindle is hemorrhaging sales to the beast from Cupertino. Apple’s iPad is shaking things up everywhere, including for hard drive manufacturers, who clearly see themselves being phased out of existence. With less demand for laptops and desktop computers, you don’t need a time machine to start betting on alternative data storage solutions.
As 2010 heads for the history books, we can only hope the sales of physical books don’t completely disappear, but I’m sure a lot of people felt that way about witty telegrams, beloved horses used for transportation, and the handsome ice man. With John James Audubon’s Birds of America selling for $11,567,575 at auction this year, it would be nice to have some reassurance books will not only belong to the wealthy in the future.
Newspapers, on the other hand, are clearly in trouble, and have been since the era of deregulation began. In a wave which may predict what will happen to physical books, the shrinking audience for newspapers will force them to become specialty publications being sold for correspondingly higher prices, even if they go digital and plan to pay their reporters, editors, and designers for content.
On a more positive note, perhaps the chaos in these industries we track gives us a moment of pause. While both manmade and natural disasters have rocked 2010, and publishing industry darlings have grappled to hang on to power, this has been far from the best year on record. It’s a good time to look to those we love and those we work with to find more important goals than merely keeping shareholders placated each quarter. Here at the Egatz Epitaph, for instance, we’ve renewed personal relationships and are working again on some new books we’ve been neglecting. We’ve also cleaned house on some relationships which weren’t so good for us. It’s a time of peace and forbearance. It’s a time of forgiveness and high hopes for the future. It’s a time for enacting new plans and resurrecting the best of old plans. Ultimately, for us, it’s about art and love and fulfillment. We hope it is for you, too.