The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books  APR 19 2010

Writing for the New Yorker, Ken Auletta surveys the ebook landscape: it's Apple, Amazon, Google, and the book publishers engaged in a poker game for the hearts, minds, and wallets of book buyers. Kindle editions of books are selling well:

There are now an estimated three million Kindles in use, and Amazon lists more than four hundred and fifty thousand e-books. If the same book is available in paper and paperless form, Amazon says, forty per cent of its customers order the electronic version. Russ Grandinetti, the Amazon vice-president, says the Kindle has boosted book sales over all. "On average," he says, Kindle users "buy 3.1 times as many books as they did twelve months ago."

Many compare ebook-selling to what iTunes was able to do with music albums. But Auletta notes:

The analogy of the music business goes only so far. What iTunes did was to replace the CD as the basic unit of commerce; rather than being forced to buy an entire album to get the song you really wanted, you could buy just the single track. But no one, with the possible exception of students, will want to buy a single chapter of most books.

I've touched on this before, but while people may not want to buy single chapters of books, they do want to read things that aren't book length. I think we'll see more literature in the novella/short-story/long magazine article range as publishers and authors attempt to fill that gap.

But mostly, I couldn't stop thinking of something that Clay Shirky recently said:

Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.

When an industry changes dramatically, the future belongs to the nimble.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
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