Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

eBooks -- Fad or portent

I just read an article about a segment of the book industry in conjunction with brick and mortar bookstores. The article even discussed various "best sellers lists" from major publications. What was remarkable about the article was the total failure to mention ebooks. In the ebook realm the author can be the publisher and the marketing department and reap the benefits of having the entire income of the book minus the costs of distribution. For example, will epublish a book for their Kindle line of products and give the author, depending on the program, from 30% to 70% of the sales price. These self-published ebooks can and do sell into the hundreds of thousands of copies and now appear on the lists compiled by such sources as the New York Times.

Significantly, the number two book this week on the combined ebook and hardcover book list for the New York Times, is an ebook that does not appear at all on the hardcover fiction book list. In other words, the book is second on the best seller list and is entirely available only as an ebook. What does this mean to the genealogical community? What does this mean to the overall book industry? What does it mean to you and me personally?

The last five books I have read completely through were ebooks. When I find time to read, I have my iPhone handy and I can read for two minutes or half an hour while I wait for appointments or even while standing in line at the bank.

With a few exceptions, where are the genealogy ebooks? For example, the third edition of Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006 is not available in ebook format and the ebook copy on either or Google Books is an older version for search only from the University of Wisconsin.

Ebooks are definitely not a fad, they are here to stay and will likely become the predominant form of book publication in a few short years (if they have not already become so). Nevertheless, almost none of the books I have on genealogy are available in ebook format. As a contrast, the book Helm, Matthew, and April Leigh Helm. Genealogy Online for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011 is readily available as an ebook.

What if you had been taught to read on an ebook and did not have any paper books? Wouldn't you think it was cumbersome and limited to physically turn pages and have to carry around this heavy book? Most of us like books because they are books, but people also like horses because they are horses and I can get along very well without one, thank you. When was the last time you went to a library to check out a book, not to do research, but just to read?

I think there will be a number of changes. There will be decline in the number of libraries and brick and mortar bookstores. Books will still be around as long as any of us are alive, but younger ebook users will simply ignore them. The entire book industry will radically change as more successful books are epublished with no physical copy of the book. Books will become the sheet music of the next decade, only purchased for specific reasons.

That's what I see happening and it looks like the changes will accelerate in the near future.


  1. I like the physical book because I can let my children handle them all they want without worrying about a fairly significant investment being damaged. There is no way I would let my two-year-old read a book on an ipad unsupervised, but I have no problem letting him sit alone in his room flipping through his books. Physical books still have their advantages.

    My other problem with ebooks is that if they become the primary method of reading, people who don't have a lot of money will be at a distinct disadvantage. If there's no longer a library and you can't afford a device for reading your books online, where does that put you?

  2. I have never read an eBook. I like to sit by the window and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine and read.

    I can take it with me and read when I have a moment, I have a library card and I am a donor to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. I like to go to Barnes and Nobles and peruse the new arrivals and decide which to read next.

    I have two computers, an iPod and an Android phone, plus a family iPad. I just love to sit and read a book and do not have to worry about it disappearing with a hard drive malfunction. I can pass the book on or lend it to a friend.