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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

E-Books Rising

A couple of interesting book stories in the news lately. First, an announcement from Amazon that its sales of Kindle e-books have surpassed its sales of hardcover books for the first time. This is measured by unit sales, which makes a significant difference: Most e-books are priced at $9.99, which is a lot less than the typical hardcover. So hardcover sales are still a bigger fraction of Amazon's bottom line than e-books.

Nonetheless, this is a meaningful milestone, which, together with other recent events (including continuing strong sales of the Kindle device itself as well as the positive response to Apple's iPad), suggests that e-books are in fact here to stay.

I happen to like my Kindle very much, although I don't use it for all my reading. Perhaps partly for this reason, I don't share the fears of some that the rise of the e-book spells the ultimate doom of printed books, either in hardcover or paperback form. History shows that people like their entertainment and information delivered in many different forms depending on the specific content, circumstances, and other factors.

For example, live theater was invented thousands of years ago. Much later, similar content began to be delivered through movies, radio, and television. None of these new technologies led to the demise of any of the earlier ones--in fact, all still exist and each has its unique role. In the same way, the birth of the paperback book didn't lead to the demise of the hardcover. I strongly believe that my great-grandchildren will be well acquainted with electronic books, printed books, and probably a few other ways of delivered verbal content, and that they will use and enjoy them all.

The other news story I enjoyed today is this article from BBC News Magazine about the art of typeface design. As an editor and writer I am not involved in this aspect of the book business--in fact I am often not even consulted about the design of my books--but I am fascinated by it and have an amateur's hankering to dabble in the field. (One of my retirement dreams involves running a little one-man letterpress operation printing fine limited editions of poetry and other artsy stuff. Don't hold your breath waiting to receive my catalog in the mail.)

If, like me, you are intrigued by the esthetic and psychological impact that various typefaces have on readers and their responses to books, you will enjoy the story. And if you haven't already seen the recent documentary film Helvetica, check it out--it appeals to the same rather specialized taste.

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