The Death of Paperbacks

“Bookselling is an eight-inch pie that keeps getting more forks coming into it,” said Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ Julia Bookstores in Madison, Connecticut. “For us, the first fork was the chains. The second fork was people reading less. The third fork was Amazon. Now it’s digital downloads.”

With the growing popularity of the e-readers, the future of libraries, books and publishing companies stands on the cusp of innovation and metamorphosis.

“Technology has made virtually anything possible,” said Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of the publishing industry magazine The Bookseller. “If you look at it conceptually, there’s a five-link chain between the person who writes and the person who reads. You’ve got Author-Agent-Publisher-Retailer-Reader. Theoretically, the three middle bits could all now vanish and the author could write online directly to the reader.” The e-readers hold the potential to make publishers, agents, and retailers have less impact on the experience of the writer and reader simultaneously and create a direct link without the middlemen.

While there is plenty of hype around the potential of the e-book to completely change the world of reading, the numbers behind the hype are just as important. The average production cost for a $26 hardcover usually runs around $4.05, while the average production cost for a $9.99 download is only $0.50.

While there has been plenty of talk about the possible environmental impacts, the carbon emissions generated to make one e-reader is equal to the carbon emissions it takes to make 40 to 50 books. While e-readers house the potential to make the book obsolete, they still must delve into the consumer base. Books are still the major product sold by publishers. The third book in the millennium series by Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, sold 30 million hard copies worldwide. It only sold one million in the Kindle market.

Amazon loses at least $5.25 on every single Kindle Touch sold, according to a report on thestreet.com that estimates manufacturing costs for the $79 device coming in around $84.25. That latter number doesn’t include cost for shipping or software, meaning that Amazon’s losses are undoubtedly even greater. Why is Amazon doing this? Simple. By offering cheaper prices for the consumers, Amazon is marketing their device as an attainable commodity for all readers. Amazon wants to get as much share of the market as they can muster and possibly pinch out any foothold for other companies.

The e-reader is essentially a machine that marks a cultural revolution. Printed books, one of the most revolutionary and important artifacts of human civilization, may, in the future, join printed newspapers and magazines on the road to prehistoric existence. But for now, the musty smell and dog-eared pages of books are here to stay.