Lessons from History

I don’t know if you heard, but eBooks are changing the way people read and the way books are published. The digital revolution is turning the publishing industry on its head and forcing everyone—from readers to publishers to authors—to change and evolve.

But what is interesting to note is that a little more than 80 years ago, publishers and readers were experiencing the same thing. Mental Floss has this pithy history of the paperback book and how it transformed the publishing industry during the late 30’s and 40’s.

Basically, in 1939, a company called Pocket Books began releasing paperback books for $0.25 while the best-selling hardcover books were going for around $2.75. The low cost of paperback books was enabled by their cheaper production costs. (Sound familiar?) Publishers and authors originally scoffed at such cheap products, but when nine million paperback books sold in six months, authors and publishers jumped at the opportunity. (Notice any parallels?)

Needless to say, paperback books have become a mainstay of the publishing industry. And looking at their very similar history to eBooks, I wonder if a lot of the naysaying about the digital revolution is wrong. Do you think eBooks are just the next evolution of reading? Or are we really headed for the end of the publishing industry as we know it?

7 Responses to Lessons from History

  1. This is a great post. As a college student had it not been for eBooks I don’t know how I would have been able to continue reading as much. Honestly I prefer hardback books but I’ve seen more people read than ever because of ebooks. If anything the publishing industry will boom, especially with young adult books there are more books than ever. I’m really glad this is happening, it just helps to reach a wider range of people just like the release of paperback books did.

  2. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I believe that if the digital age has taught us anything, it is that everything is possible. I don’t see eBooks going anywhere, only gaining in popularity. They cut down on luggage (I used to take at least a backpack full of books on every trip) and seem to appeal to a larger mass of people. My dad, who is in his sixties and not tech savvy at all, loves all of his. He has three so the grandkids won’t use his good one. He loves that he can increase the font size so that it doesn’t hurt his eyes to read. My 10 year old nephew loves to use them because they make him feel important(his words, not mine). On the down side, I can see a lot of people losing out on profit because of digital pirating.

    I have to say, though, that I am worried that eBooks will completely replace paper books. Personally, I love the feel of the textured paper on my fingertips and the slightly musty smell. Every time I pick one out at home, I hold it up, smelling the pages, and fan through it before sitting down to read (What? You don’t?). I told my husband once that I could never go completely digital because of it. His response, “I’ll get you drawing paper and a book scented air freshener.” I proceed to ask him, expectantly, “They make those?!”

  3. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I believe that if the digital age has taught us anything, it is that everything is possible. I don’t see eBooks going anywhere, only gaining in popularity. They cut down on luggage (I used to take at least a backpack full of books on every trip) and seem to appeal to a larger mass of people. My dad, who is in his sixties and not tech savvy at all, loves all of his. He has three so the grandkids won’t use his good one. He loves that he can increase the font size so that it doesn’t hurt his eyes to read. My 10 year old nephew loves to use them because they make him feel important(his words, not mine). On the down side, I can see a lot of people losing out on profit because of digital pirating.

    I have to say, though, that I am worried that eBooks will completely replace paper books. Personally, I love the feel of the textured paper on my fingertips and the slightly musty smell. Every time I pick one out at home, I hold it up, smelling the pages, and fan through it before sitting down to read (What? You don’t?). I told my husband once that I could never go completely digital because of it. His response, “I’ll get you drawing paper and a book scented air freshener.” I proceeded to ask him, expectantly, “They make those?!”

    • I think, in the worst case scenario, that there will be a collector’s market for print books. They’ll be like vinyl to music lovers, still available in specialty shops.

      And like vinyl, they’ll matter less and less to future generations. Future readers won’t care as much about the smell or other sentimental things, just as most modern music listeners don’t care about the supposedly better sound of records.

  4. emily says:

    The article makes clear that the “masses” wanted to “read” and PocketBooks filled the need. Also, money was being made on paperbacks.

    I think it was genius to distribute them alongside magazines!!

    So the way I read it, three things pushed the paperback revolution:
    1. mass attraction
    2. an inventive distribution tactic
    3. cash-American in the bank

    Turning to eBooks:
    1. mass attraction is there — phenomenal growth year-over-year so far
    2. distribution to proprietary devices is clunky but distribution through the nanosphere is fast
    3. cash-American [or any other currency] still not stabilized enough to make good predictions.

    BUT

    The writing is on the wall, in the stars, online, in the social media universe, and consistently addressed in this blog – EBOOKS are HERE, NOW.

    hmmmm?

    there’s a zen thing in there somewhere…be here now?

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