Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2010 Issue

Printed Books vs. E-Readers: We're Ready to Make a Call

Kindle v books

Amazon says over 400,000 books are available on Kindle (image from Amazon website).


By Michael Stillman

There were several developments and news items concerning electronic readers appearing over the past few weeks, and while we will attempt to summarize a few of them, we don't think any one is the real story. For us, the real story is we are ready to project a winner in the battle between electronic readers and print media, and while the returns are early, we believe we see enough data to make our predictions.

Amazon announced that on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, they sold more downloadable electronic books than physical ones. This is a company that started strictly as a seller of physical books, and is today one of the largest retail operations in the world (though now selling many other types of merchandise). Of course, Christmas Day is not exactly a typical sales day (who buys anything on Christmas?). Nevertheless, there is an important milestone here, a first likely to be repeated with increasing frequency in the days ahead. Meanwhile, Amazon also announced that their Kindle electronic reader is the most "gifted" item in their history. We will assume by "gifted" they mean more people gave Kindles as gifts than any other product, rather than that it is the most intelligent or talented product they have ever offered.

Samsung, the large electronics manufacturer, announced that they will be introducing four electronic readers this year. Two are scheduled to be released in March or April, the other two in July. These devices will not only allow for reading, but other functions such as note-taking. Samsung will be offering books from Google's growing library of over one million electronic volumes.

That Samsung and others would enter this space should be of no great surprise. A few months back, Forrester Research upped its projections of sales of electronic readers for 2010 to 6 million, double its estimate for 2009. They had only just upped their 2009 projection by 50% from 2 to 3 million units when making that last prediction.

California recently passed a law mandating that any publisher selling textbooks to California universities make electronic versions available by the year 2020. Digital editions are likely to bring down the huge cost of textbooks today as well as making them much lighter and easier to carry around. While the year 2020 is still a decade away, we expect that this change will come about much sooner and in the 49 states other than California as well. We give it only another year or two before electronic textbooks become the norm rather than the exception. People entering college today are far more comfortable with electronic reading than those of us born at an earlier time. They have been reading things electronically all of their lives.

What do these and other stories about electronic readers portend for the business of printed books? In the January 4 issue of Newsweek, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was asked if he believes the printed book will eventually go away. His response was "I do." He noted that the printed book has had an incredibly long run, over 500 years. If Gutenberg came back today, Bezos points out, he would still know exactly how to use the technology. That is an astonishing fact, as it is unlikely Alexander Graham Bell would know how to text on a cell phone, or Thomas Edison know how to operate an MP3 music player, though their inventions came 400 years later. Still, Bezos says, "no technology lasts forever," and in his opinion, this one is coming to its end.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.

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