where the writers are
Will e-books lead to a decline in furniture sales?

(from The Publeconomist)

Furniture-makers, beware. You’d think that with the buzz surrounding the new Barnes & Noble e-book reader, Nook, that I’d be able to go furniture shopping and get a pleasantly discounted bookshelf. Unfortunately, Ikea isn’t biting.

I do believe in the future of e-books, both for computers and little devices like Nook. I think that there’s incredible value that Amazon and B&N are probably missing. For example, think about the benefits for education in developing countries. Presently, organizations like One Laptop Per Child focus on researching whether or not the use of laptops in the developing world will help young children to perform better in schools. Imagine if the Kindle 2 or Nook (pre-loaded with one-hundred books that everyone under 18 should read) was distributed to every 14-year old in countries where books are not readily available, or where an education system is severely lacking. Even in our own country, there are places where a school district cannot simply afford to buy enough books for students.

When I think of the implications for the developing world, I’m intrigued by the possibilities and thankful for these new technological innovations. Sadly, they weren’t created by altruists. These are profit engines, anchored towards a future where people don’t buy many print books, and where the exchange of information is mostly electronic.

I obviously can’t predict the future. I know how precious my print books are to me, and how much I love having large, full bookshelves. They add character and intrigue to a room. Even a few books on a coffee table can become an awesome conversation piece. Do people really want to lose this? Is the Nook a secret plot by minimalist interior designers? Where’s Christopher Lowell on this one? I want his opinion on the e-book.

I’m hoping that e-books will do well, and I say this for two reasons. The first is that if Kindle 2 and Nook are wildly successful, then there will be increased opportunities to get these devices (or less expensive counterparts) into disadvantaged countries and schools for use by children who don’t have access to many print books. The second reason is that I’m not sure we need a print version for every title out there. Keep in mind that print books cost money to produce! Therefore, the number of new titles by publishing houses (not including vanity presses) are contingent upon the aggregate budget for printing by all publishing houses. E-books cost much less than print books to produce, and therefore publishers will have more opportunities to offer e-book contracts to emerging authors.

Keep in mind that publishing houses have been investing most of this printing money in well-known authors and non-literary celebrities. These are the people who will produce big sales figures. New and emerging authors aren’t the most profitable bunch. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be published, rather it means there are fewer publishing houses willing to take a risk on them.

Now, a publishing house can find these emerging writers, and offer them an e-book contract for their first title. Get them in the door, publish their material, and if it sells well, then there’s a golden avenue towards a print title.

Hopefully this will be the result of the e-book wars. And hopefully Ikea will lower those bookshelf prices. They have this cool one with a white finish that’ll just look perfect in my apartment–mmm. Maybe in a couple of years.

Anthony DiFiore, Publisher