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The future of ebooks (from 2000)

Over the weekend, the BiblioFuture blog posted a set of ebook predictions that Microsoft made back in 2000. Where they dug it up, I have no clue. But I’m glad they did. It’s fascinating what some anonymous MS employee that would happen with ebooks over the past 10 years.

I’m going to go through the list and dissect it. I do find this list rather interesting. A lot of the missed predictions could have come true if MS had gotten behind ereaders back in 2000.

And they could have, too.  By 2002 Microsoft had released their reading app (MS Reader) for Windows CE.They also released Windows CE 2.11 in 2002, which was a pretty decent mobile OS (and the best at the time). And in 2003, Mobipocket released kick but reading apps that worked on multiple platforms. (Amazon killed them.)

The technology was there; what was missing was support from MS and acceptance from the publishing industry.

2002– PCs and eBook devices offer screens that are as sharp as paper, with 200 dpi physical resolution, and an effective resolution of about 500 dpi with ClearType.

2003– eBook devices weigh less than a pound and run for eight hours on a charge. Costs run from $99 for a simple black and white device to about $899 for the most powerful, color magazine-sized machine.

Okay, these 2 were insane. There’s no way these could come true in only 2 and 3 years.

2004– The Tablet PC becomes a mainstream option for computing. It is a pad-sized device that supports writing as well as eBook reading, and runs powerful computer applications in a slate form factor. More than half of all eReading is done on PCs and laptops, but dedicated eBooks, handheld machines and now Tablets account for the other half.

2005– eBook title and ePeriodical sales top $1 billion. Many serial publications are given away free with advertising support that now also totals more than $1 billion. An estimated 250 million people regularly read books and newspapers on their PCs, laptops, and palm machines.

2006– eNewstands (kiosks) proliferate on street corners, airports, etc. As usual, airlines offer customers old magazines on the flight, but the magazines are now downloaded to eBook devices.

2008– eBook titles begin to outsell conventional volumes in most countries. The price of a new bestseller title is about $8-$10, but unit sales are much larger than average paper sales for similar titles a decade ago.

Nope.  None of those predictions came true. Tablet PCs were a niche  in 2004, but until the iPad it was a very small niiche. I find it particularly surprising that the advertising revenue prediction was so off base; ad revenues have actually dropped since that prediction, not grown. On the other hand, the digital kiosks don’t surprise me, nor does the fact they didn’t happen.  There wasn’t enough content to make them worth installing. And as for ebooks outselling paper books, *snort*. That will never going to happen, IMO. There are many things you can do with ebooks, but there are many more that you cannot.

2009– Several top authors now publish directly to their audiences, many of whom subscribe to their favorite authors rather than buy book-by-book. Some authors join genre cooperatives, in which they hold an ownership stake, to cover the costs of marketing, handle group advertising sales and sell "ancillary" (that is, non-electronic) rights, including "paper rights." Major publishing houses survive and prosper by offering authors editing and marketing services, rather than arranging for book printing. Printing firms diversify into eBook preparation and converting old paper titles to electronic formats.

This prediction was slightly off, but it’s now coming true. J.A. Konrath now makes more money from his self published titles than from his contracts with a Big 6 publisher.  And as for Genre Cooperatives, I know of several (Book View Cafe, which was founded in 2008).

But the rest of the prediction for 2009 weren’t quite as accurate. The Major Publishers are still holding on without any serious change in their behavior (aside from trying to strangle the ebook market), and some printing firms are diversifying  but not that many. Most conversion and ebook prep is done by tech companies or handled internally.

2010– Popular eBook devices weigh eight ounces, run for more than 24 hours, offer beautiful non-backlit displays, are available in flexible/foldable form factors, and hold more books and magazines than most university libraries. They cost less than $100 and are often given away free with the purchase of several books or a magazine subscription.

This one almost came true. The weight battery life, screen tech, and storage capacity are about right but we’re not quite there on price.  I also don’t think we’ll ever see the folding form factor.

The rest of the list is predictions for the next 10 years. I was going to pass on discussing them, but one caught my eye.

2012– The pulp industry mounts its pro-paper "Real Books" ad campaign, featuring a friendly logger who urges consumers to "Buy the real thing – real books printed on real paper."

That’s already happening, sort of. The magazine industry  have been running a "we’re not dead yet" campaign this year to try to regain the readers they lost to the Web. It’s not quite the same, but it is similar.

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Andrew H. December 14, 2010 um 9:58 pm

That’s very interesting.

I should point out, though, re: storage capacity, that my university’s library had 8 million books and periodicals.

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