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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Will eBooks Replace Paper Books?

Back in 2005, Thomas Mann, a Reference Librarian at the Library of Congress, made the following statement:
Nor, after more than a decade of fervent hype, do e-books show any signs of significantly encroaching on the territory of real books. See Mann, Thomas. The Oxford Guide to Library Research. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
That was more than eight years ago. Bear in mind that Apple's iPad was introduced on April 3, 2010, just about three years ago. Apple sold 3 million iPads in the first 80 days of sales. Yes, although it seems like tablets have been around forever, it is just a few short years. There were a few tablet computers released in 2009 but most of the sales only began in 2010.

It is also interesting to note that Mann's argument, cited above, that the ebook would not make any progress in replacing paper (real books?) was based on the premise that people would not read them on their desktop computers. When that argument went out the window, did ebooks really start making inroads?

From watching the steady increase in tablet and smartphone usage, I would guess that they are being used more each year. But are people using them to read books? Depending on whose statistics you believe, ebooks have passed some categories of paper books in sales. See "US eBook Market Grew by 5% in Q1 2013, AAP Reports" citing statistics from the Association of American Publishers, Inc.

Personally, I would rather read a book on my iPad than on paper. But I have been limited by the availability of ebooks on subjects I am interested in reading about. Hence, the paper book by Thomas Mann I cite above.

From a strictly economic standpoint, ebooks will inevitably replace the vast majority of paper books. It is so much less expensive to publish and distribute an ebook that there is literally no comparison. One indication of the popularity of reading ebooks is the fact that the New York Times Best Seller lists now have combined Print and E-Book Fiction and Non-fiction lists and separate lists for ebooks.

The main reason that ebooks have not yet had a huge impact on genealogists is that up until very recently few of the basic genealogy books were available in ebook format. This is still true of the newer books, but reference books and older source books are being converted to electronic format at an ever increasing rate. It is only a matter of time that genealogists will realize that most of the books they have been consulting for the past years are now available in ebook formats. For example, FamilySearch recently added just over 100,000 ebooks to's Books collection. I can access all of these on my iPad. It is easier to download the books to my desktop computer in PDF format and then put them in Dropbox and then on my iPad, I can move them to iBooks, Kindle or other readers. I am still using the original iPad so it is a little slow, but who needs speed when you are reading?

No, I do not see paper books going away any time soon. As a matter of fact, I have a couple of thousand of them that are resisting going away at all. But technology is inevitable. Tablets and readers keep getting lighter and thinner and faster and higher quality images.

1 comment:

  1. Anguline Research Archives has been publishing genealogy books in pdf format since 2005.
    Well before the I-Pad was first released.
    People have been using e-books for genealogy sources including parish registers since around 2000.
    It is interesting to note that the latest trend is for such e-books to be re-published as print on demand physical books.