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Would the demise of Borders boost ebooks? I doubt it.

Laura Dawson thinks so, and I respectfully disagree. Here is what she said:

There will be fewer brick and mortar bookstores. By a factor of a lot. Possibly a third of bookstores in the US will close when Borders is finished with its death spiral and Barnes & Noble and successful independents have picked up what business makes sense in those locations. But for that newly-deprived third of bookstore customers? Where will they get their books?

How long do you think it will be before they realize that if they order ebooks, they don’t have to wait even 24 hours before they get what they want? How long do you think it will be before instant gratification means that suddenly these underserved areas are hotbeds of ebook consumption?

I have a couple reasons to disagree.

When it comes to buying ebooks, the cost is too high and the process is too difficult. The only store that makes it easy to buy ebooks is Amazon. B&N comes in second (becuase of the 3G on the Nook), but have you seen their site? It’s not easy to navigate.

My other reason is that I don’t think most people are that adaptable.  People will continue to buy paper books because that’s what they’re used to doing. Now, Amazon will pick up a lot of sales, but that’s going to be in paper books, not ebooks.

My opinion on adaptability is based on my own personal experience. I am a not too old geek, and I would rather not tell you how long I knew and used Google before I stopped pondering "What about X?" and switched to "Let’s Google X and see what comes up". Most people won’t make the leap from one to the next without someone to show them the way. We would need a critical mass of ebook fans before ebooks could expand into that bookstore deprived third of the population, and we just don’t have it yet.

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Laura Dawson June 16, 2010 um 2:47 pm

Nate, thank you so much for finding my post and writing this!

I was basing this largely on the demise of record stores and the adoption of the MP3 – followed closely by the demise of video stores and adoption of viewing-on-demand. Netflix was a great bridge here – but even they offer view-on-demand and consumers are increasingly adopting it (after being trained for decades to rent physical movies). It’s not going to happen overnight, as it did for music, but I find it hard to believe that within a generation we won’t be looking at vastly fewer volumes of print books in the supply chain.

That said, I just got a book in the mail while typing this. Volume 2 of The Jewel in the Crown – which has not been digitized yet and I really want to read it.

Nate the great June 16, 2010 um 3:19 pm

Hi Laura,

I don’t think the cases are parallel.

When people moved from broadcast to tv to web tv, they moved from one screen to another. A move to ebooks is a move from paper to screen. That difference is why I have doubts.

Laura Dawson June 16, 2010 um 4:30 pm

Yes, I think it will take much longer – and today’s release of ebook sales for March are a case in point, as they are down from previous months – but I think it will happen over time. I don’t think that we’ll see a total replacement of p by e, as we have with CDs vs MP3s, for QUITE some time.

And let’s not forget that this has already been happening – 10 years ago, was selling the Rocket ebook reader. It was a radical failure at the time. And yet here we are.

Interesting journey either way. Feel very grateful to be in the industry now.

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