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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2011

How Ebooks Change Our Lives and Homes

Amazon is now selling more ebooks than their printed counterparts - regardless of it is paperback or hardcover books. It is an amazing development considering that Amazon only started selling ebooks 4 years ago.

Ebooks is not the only area where we are seeing a similar rapid shift in format. We are seeing the same with smartphones, with news, with iTunes and Spotify, with social media, with games, and with Netflix.

The past five years all tell the same story. The world wants to change, but have been held back either by companies trying to cling on to the status quo, or by lack of usable solutions (or both). But once the status quo is broken, the world rushes forwards with speeds never experience before.

We are going to see the same effect in many other areas. The newspaper industry is beginning to get a taste of it, and pretty much every area of retail is going to shift once mobile commerce hit a usable point. We are getting close to that point, but mobile commerce has yet to provide really usable solutions across products.

Imagine shopping shifting in just four years. From physical transactions in shops, to shopping wherever you are - from any device. It is going to happen. First slowly, but then with a sudden rush once the solutions become easy enough to use, and critical mass is achieved.

With ebooks, that shift is a reality. Four years ago, every author focused on print first and "maybe" digital later. Most publishers still think like that. But with ebooks outperforming print, you now have to think digital first and "maybe" print later.

You are not creating pages of text anymore. You are not designing for a paperback format. Ebooks are fluid. They can be read on any screen (thus any size), with text sizes set to whatever the reader prefers.

The publishing industry is still learning. The ePub format is largely designed to support converted print formats. It doesn't take advantage of the connected world. Most eReaders don't support links, embedded video, interactivity, or anything like that.

The ePub format is basically what the web was like back in 1994 - but without the link or direct engagement. In short, not even close to the new connected world.

The entire book industry is in a flux. The very concept of a book is changing. Many predict that books in the future will be more visual. My new book certainly contains a lot of visual elements with 64 images and 4 videos (which I had to link to because embedding was impractical).

Ebooks allows you to read "when you have a moment." With a printed book, you have to go into "book mode." You have to say to yourself, I am going to read this book for the next couple of hours and then sit down to do just that. With ebooks you can read a book while waiting for people to arrive at a meeting, you can read it while driving (as an audiobook), you can read it while cooking a meal, etc.

Ebooks free us from the "reading mode," allowing us to consume long-form stories at any time,anywhere.

With this kind of competition, the printed book is dead. It only took 4 years to convince the early adopters *and* the majority.

The Future of book cases

When hearing about this, one of my readers asked me what the future was for book cases. What will happen now that you can store all your books in your pocket?

It is a fascinating question, because clearly there isn't much need for book cases in the future.

I reached out to IKEA and asked them if and how they are adapting to the new world of ebooks. Are they selling less book cases. And if so, do IKEA see an increased demand for other products?

It turns out that IKEA is already adapting their product lines. While they do not see any direct shift in sale, they are in the process of e.g. redesigning the Billy book cases. Creating deeper versions so that it can be used for display or ornaments and bigger "coffee table books" (which is still mostly print). They are also adding the option of glass doors, effectively turning them into cabinets.

Here is what Janice Simonsen, IKEA USA Product Public Relations, had to say:

It's now commonly reported that book sales are in rapid decline and that new technology is getting cheaper all the time. But, looking at the BILLY sales situation in the US, it's hard to see what will happen for IKEA US and our Bookcase sales - or when it will happen!
IKEA of Sweden are working on re-positioning BILLY, by introducing a deeper version in FY12, to be used for coffee table books/displays/ornaments, and we are asking the US Stores to focus on selling the BILLY Doors with the Bookcases, in order to give the range more functions for our Customers.
Bookcases for IKEA, particularly our BILLY bookcases, are still selling quite well, but that the use may be for different items, so we are adding more functions like glass doors and deeper shelves.

The shift is happening right now. Not just on our mobile devices, but also in our homes.

Book cases in 2061

What happens when we look 50 years into the future? What will happen to our book cases then? First, they are no likely to even exists. In 50 years, authors won't write printed books, because the generation writing the books all grew up with ebooks.

The printed book is long gone, except for a few antique stores.

But the real change is actually going to come from a different direction - from how we build houses.

The way we build houses has changed. Modern building materials, double and triple pane windows allows us to open up our houses to the outside world. Covering an entire wall with windows is not only practical but also preferable. We don't want to live in closed boxes.

50 years ago, windows were a major concern in terms of insulation, so in order to keep our houses at the right temperature, all old houses feature tiny windows. Today, windows often insulate better than the walls themselves, thus enabling us to build homes with few outside walls.

What does that have to do with book cases? Well, in the old world, you needed something to break the monotony of an empty wall. This is what we see today, when people buy book cases to decorate their living rooms.

But once you replace your walls with windows, the monotony of an empty wall is replaced by the "wild outside world". If your outer wall is made of glass, you don't fill up your inner walls with book cases. You focus on keeping it simple to create balance.

There is no real causation between the future of interior decoration and ebooks. It is just two trends that happen to mix well.

In any case, it is a fascinating shift.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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