I have a Kindle. (It was generously donated by a reader a few years ago.) I have, say, 200 books on it, nearly all free from Project Gutenberg and similar sites. I have bought only five or six e-books.
No, strike that. I did not “buy” books for the Kindle. I bought licenses which allow me to read the electronic versions of those titles, at Amazon’s pleasure. We all recall how via remote control Amazon forcibly and surreptitiously removed 1984 from Kindles after a dispute with the publisher of that title. Amazon claims that this sort of thing won’t happen often—which is not the same as saying it won’t happen. You do not own an e-book, you do not even rent one, you instead purchase a license so complicated only a lawyer would love it.
Since you do not own the e-book, you may not do with it as you will. You may not, in many cases, loan it, though you may loan out the entire e-reader, which is like giving up your entire library at once. You may not sell the e-book. This means there will be no used e-books, and no used e-bookstores. And since used books are a major way readers discover new authors, well, readers won’t discover as many new authors; that is, they won’t buy e-books from authors who they did not discover.
Further, the lack of used e-books also drives the average price of a title up since the purchaser must always buy “new.” Since a title will cost more on average, fewer of that title will be sold. The timing of this depends on each title’s mix of physical and e-books, since usually, but far from always, e-books licenses are cheaper. (In some cases, e-books cost more.)
E-readers cost significant money, or require the purchase of other expensive equipment (iPad, etc.) which is always undergoing upgrades. A physical books costs whatever it costs. But e-books cost the license plus the non-constant cost of the technology to read it on. Certain e-books (say with color or even video) will have to repurchased when technology changes (records to 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs to mp3s…). The list price of the e-book fibs. It masks the true cost of reading. Many don’t or won’t want to spend the initial large chunk of money to enter the e-books world.
Overall and soon, e-books will cause a decrease in number of books sold. It will be difficult to peg the decline of reading on e-books, though, because people on average are reading less. Here, “on average” means that people who own e-book readers generally now read more titles, but the percentage of citizens who read is itself declining and will continue to do so.
There is nothing in principle, save greed, which bars used e-bookstores. Amazon already sells used physical books, right along side new books. They have links for readers to sell their used copies to Amazon, who will then re-sell the titles to the public. Many readers prefer buying new regardless, perhaps because the books are gifts, or because they prefer the smell of a new book. The choice exists, however.
A used e-book suffers no shelf wear, so who would prefer to buy the new and more expensive license when a discounted used license exists? In the case of used e-book licenses, the customer receives the identical product. Publishers and e-book sellers thought these very thoughts, which is why no used e-books exist. But their conclusion is flawed. They should still allow used licenses.
When a used physical book is sold, only the seller takes a cut of the profit. The publisher gets nothing directly; indirectly, they have advertising which goes with the books, a significant benefit. With e-books, publishers can agree up front that if a used license is sold, they take a portion of the sale. The seller and publisher have already made their initial money on the first sale of the license; further re-sales are pure profit. Used e-books will not “eat into” the market of a title any more than used physical books do.
Update Physical books won’t die. If you think they will and that e-books will dominate, you have not tried to read a book of mathematics on an e-reader, or to study a set of books with scholarly intent. Flipping through e-books is impossible. Jumping from an earlier page to a later one is like trying to run through a vat of molasses. Marginal notes are technologically possible, but in practice are a horror to use. “What page was that equation on?” There are no pages and no page numbers. How do you tell somebody where to look? “On your Kindle 2.0 set your resolution at 12pt and then navigate to 12.45% and then search for X; but if you’re on version 1.7, set at 14pt…” Sheesh. Want to have more than one book open at a time? Why not instead fly to the moon flapping your arms?
Update Free reading wasn’t working, so…Library offers free pole dancing class to draw visitors.
Update Complete anti-theft DRM is always impossible (for text-only books). Just open the book on any device and re-type (cheap to have done, too).