The Ebooks are Coming! the Ebooks are Coming!

by | Nov 16, 2010

All indications are that ebook reader manufacturers are expecting this holiday season to be the elusive, much anticipated, often-predicted but never quite arrived yet, tipping point moment for the ebook industry.

In this scenario, on Christmas morning millions of people will awaken to find that Santa has decided it’s better to save the trees, and forget that copy of the new Jon Stewart book that Aunt Lucille was hinting at. She’s going to find a Kindle, a Nook, or one of the dozens of other ereaders under her tree instead.

And not only that. Aunt Lucille is going to sit down, boot up that new ereader, and start downloading ebooks. We know, statistically, that people who own ereaders read—and buy—more books than anyone else. So really what Aunt Lucille will be holding in her hand a few weeks from now is nothing less than the future of the book publishing industry.

Throughout the country, what looks like a coordinated army of retailers have set up big retail displays—always near the front door of their stores—hawking Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, iPads, and all the other hopefuls in the ereader race. Prepare to be corralled into a test drive when you hit Wal Mart, Target, Best Buy and every other shopping destination this holiday season.

The Tide, Approaching Flood?

Until just recently, and despite a lot of excitement, ebooks made up only a tiny proportion of all books sold. But now the indication is that’s changing, and changing fast.

Julie Bosman, writing in today’s New York Times (Great Expectations for E-Readers) reports that two years ago ebooks accounted for about 1 percent of all book sales. Now they may be as high as 10 percent.

Over on there are reviews of 76 different ereader models from 17 manufacturers.

John Biggs writes on

The NYT’s trend piece is correct in assuming that the folks who usually ask for the latest Stephen King thriller under the tree will probably ask for an e-reader instead. Like any technology, it takes a while to build a head of steam but once the average reader gets his or her head around the e-book market, things will change drastically and quickly.

Nate Anderson on goes even further:

. . . devices like the Kindle have now become so attractive and functional that it’s hard to imagine going without a reader in the future. With this newest unit, I’m a convert to idea of e-readers. . . devices are now good enough, and the content is finally varied enough, that it’s possible to envision the wholesale shift to digital texts.

Later, Anderson adds,

Plenty will be lost . . . Book lovers will mourn the change and carp endlessly about typography, design, cover art, and the facing page format, but music and movies have already showed us that people will make the switch to digital convenience even at the expense of quality.

Prophetic words? Or is there something intrinsic that will keep the printed book viable even while ebooks continue to grow?

What’s Next?

So ebooks are coming. They are here, and they are growing. Will all those ereaders become this year’s Cabbage Patch Doll, only to be forgotten in the back of the closet by Valentine’s Day? Or is this the leading edge of the big change that will sweep over the book business, transforming everything in its wake?

Stay tuned, it will be an interesting ride. But if you’re a self-publisher, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be getting ready to profit from the wave yourself.

What will it take to succeed in the new ebook market?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Nan Palmero,

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Bob Sawatzki

    I have 2 novels created in Creative Suite 3 with full color graphics and internet links that would be perfect for viewing on the iPad:

    “Circa ’96: The Internet Comes to River Bend” won 1st prize in the 2005 Utah Original Writing Competition and is viewable here:

    I am also working on a travel fiction with Photographs. Sample cover and chapter viewable here:

    My question is: Should I upgrade to CS-5 and try to self-publish, or should I continue my (so far) fruitless request to find a publisher?

    I really appreciate the knowledgeable articles on your well-designed site and any feedback you have would be appreciated.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Congratulations on your award. I don’t think there’s anything specific in CS5 that would make a big difference to your project. It’s impossible to decide for someone else what path they should take, but trying to get a contract from a traditional publisher may take a lot of patience and perseverance. And self-publishing has its own challenges. Maybe clarifying for yourself what the real goal is in getting published will help you decide on a direction.

      Good luck!

  2. Christy Pinheiro

    I am getting a Kindle right after Christmas. I returned my iPad, and I might be getting a new one when all the Apple products are available on the Verizon network next year. I hate At&T so much and the last AT&T product I own is my iPhone and my pathetic home phone (which I need because of our house alarm).

    Anyway, the new Kindles look sleek, and I like that they have an extended battery time. I’m coming over to the dark side.

    • Joel Friedlander

      The new Kindles are smaller, lighter and more attractive than their predecessors. And now that you can pick one up and check it out for yourself at lots of retailers, they have removed the inconvenience of having to order and wait for yours to arrive. The Kindle owners I know are seriously addicted to and have a lot of love for the device, so you’ll have plenty of company “on the dark side.”

  3. Mark

    I’m a new visitor to your site, Joel, and I just spent an enjoyable half-hour poking around. I, too, would be curious to hear your opinions about the coming e-book wave. Do you see the continuing growth of e-books as a net positive or a net negative for book designers? Why?


    • Joel Friedlander

      Rima and Mark, thanks for reading. As I’ve written here numerous times, the move to digital text is well under way and seems inevitable. Cost and convenience alone will make ebooks popular. The move to digital text will accelerate as readers get better and cheaper and more books begin to appear on digital platforms, perhaps even solely in digital forms.

      What do I think about it all? I’m hoping that the tools we use to make these books, and the readers on which they are read, get better fast. Fast enough so that all the lessons we’ve gleaned from 500 years of bookmaking have a chance to adapt to, and influence, the new digital formats. If the tools don’t improve quickly enough, we may well “lose” the skillful ability to present long texts that we’ve refined over the years. That would be a bad tradeoff to me.

      • Rima

        Joel – your answer is fascinating. You want readers to get better faster. How would you lose the skills to present long texts? Is that a very technical question? If so, feel free to ignore it. :)

  4. Rima

    I’d like to know what YOU think of all this, Joel. Having built a life and career around books, what are your thoughts? I am asking for a Nook for Christmas, by the way…

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    >>Book lovers will mourn the change and carp endlessly about typography, design, cover art . . . is there something intrinsic that will keep the printed book viable even while ebooks continue to grow?<<

    In an effort to make three recent self-pubbed books "more professional," I've started chapters only on recto pages. I've come to like the "pause" a blank or nearly blank verso page provides before a new chapter begins.

    In one book, I'm considering a blank in the front matter between the copyright page and the preface so readers can "take a breath" before plunging onward. I like the way it feels, but I'm concerned that readers might find it strange or think I made an error or padded the book. Perhaps I'll just stick a small fleuron or dingbat on the page.

    Yesterday, I received "The War for Late Night" (about Jay/Dave/Conan). It's published by Penguin, one of the "Big Six" and obviously a company that employs skilled, experienced and knowledgable professionals. Cover price is $26.95.

    In this book, chapters start on both verso and recto pages.

    The same box from Amazon brought me a copy of "The Master Switch: the rise and fall of information empires," published by pros at Alfred Knopf. Its cover price is $27.95 and it, too, has both verso and recto chapter starts.

    I don't know if this is a statistically significant sampling, but two out of two is startling.

    Has the Kindle affected even a high-priced hardcover deckel-edged book from a 95-year-old publisher?

    Will the next hardcover from Random House or Simon & Schuster eschew hyphens and present readers with rampant rivers and oversize word spacing? Will we see the end of justified pages in favor of rag-right?

    How slippery is the slope we seem to be on? Are we sliding down into book design hell? Is the "dark side" winning?

    Who should an amateur like me emulate? Am I wasting my effort? Did I waste the $150 I spent to buy Adobe Garamond Pro? Are there only six people in the world who even notice book design? Next year, will there be just three, or one?

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, the decision how to start chapters is one we make on a book by book basis. It’s quite common in fiction and narrative nonfiction to start new chapters on the next page, verso or recto. This is nothing new and not related to ebook practices.

      As far as your early blank is concerned, just don’t use a right-hand page as a blank. If it’s in the front matter you can sometimes use an additional half-title as a separator. And if your blank is a left-hand page, and it lacks any text, don’t put anything on it at all.

      As far as your question, there are a lot of typographers, designers, and book lovers who are not going to magically forget what good books look like, so I think your investment in Adobe Garamond Pro will pay off for you for years to come.



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