Jason Epstein Writes on the Future of E-Books

Jason Epstein The following quote from Jason Epstein is from an article he published in the The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2010:

“The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good. The crisis of confidence reflects these intersecting shocks, an overspecialized marketplace dominated by high-risk ephemera and a technological shift orders of magnitude greater than the momentous evolution from monkish scriptoria to movable type launched in Gutenberg’s German city of Mainz six centuries ago.” (emphasis mine)

A couple of things to note here. First, why should we listen to Jason Epstein? Because in 1952 Jason is the man who launched the trade paperback book in the United States. If anyone is qualified to step back and look at where things are heading in the publishing world, it’s Jason.

So when he says first of all, a transition to e-books is now underway and irreversible, you have to stop and take notice. But second, did you catch what he said at the end? Jason says this “technological shift” from print to e-books is not only as big a deal as Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, he says it’s “orders of magnitude greater!” Wow.