The Economist Magazine has an interesting essay about the future of books. One of the observations made by the article is that books need to be compared to tablets and e-readers as another device for delivering text. Compared to a tablet, a book has unlimited battery life, can be carried and read anywhere, and can withstand temperature extremes that electronics typically can’t. The drawback is that books aren’t as flexible and can only contain a fixed amount of text that can’t be changed.
When you see printed books as an alternate medium for delivering text, you can better understand how printed books and e-books can co-exist. In the e-book world, the most successful genres are fiction, specifically romance fiction. When you want quick escapist reading, romance fiction is cheap and easy to hide on a tablet to avoid the social stigma of reading romance novels. Harlequin Romance is actually seeing declining sales since printing romance novels on a regular basis can get expensive using paper.
On the other hand, reference books tend to be more popular in printed form. That way people can easily access the pages they want with bookmarks, they can highlight passages, and leave the book open while doing something else.
So if you’re looking for greater success in publishing your own books, consider your market. Light fiction is most popular as e-books because few people want or need to keep them around afterwards. Reference material is more popular in printed form since most people want to keep them around and maybe share them with others.
To best satisfy both demands, you can print your book as an e-book to satisfy the tablet and e-reader market, then go through a print-on-demand service to get your book in print as well. If you’re writing romance fiction, it will likely be more profitable to sell e-books, but since print-on-demand doesn’t cost you anything, you might as well try that route too.
Likewise if you’re writing a reference book, go through the print-on-demand route but don’t ignore the e-book market either. Selling an e-book won’t cost you a thing so you might as well do that too.
Paper books seem likely to remain popular with reference material that people are willing to pay for. Light fiction will likely remain popular as e-books because of their low-cost and easy disposability.
In the early days, printed books were considered luxuries, which is why rich people had libraries to show off their wealth and their collections. Today, we’ll likely return to those days when printed books will become a luxury once more. As long as people are willing to pay for your book as an e-book or a printed book, it doesn’t matter. Just keep writing and marketing your books in every form possible.
Remember the early days when movie studios feared that VHS tape sales would hurt the movie industry? Then they discovered that VHS tapes and later DVDs gave movie studios another source of revenue? That’s likely what will happen with books. E-books give printed books a new outlet and print-on-demand books give e-books another way to reach customers. Use both. If your customer wants to buy your book, sell both versions. You’ll still win, your customer will be happy, and your book will still get in the hands of others.