The future of e-books and how to break into the industry

The future of e-books and how to break into the industry

E-books seem to be all the rage these days.

According to a November 2012 survey by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project Library Services, e-book readers increased from 16 percent to 23 percent in the past year among Americans aged 16 and older. Meanwhile, the study reported that the number of Americans who read printed books dropped from 72 percent to 67 percent among that same age group.

While the e-book industry has enjoyed rapid growth, competition remains fierce. If you want to enter the field, you not only need to know how the industry in general is doing, but how to break in and who to work with.

E-book industry outlook

Is it wise to join the e-book industry, or is this just another fad bound to die off? It depends who you ask.

In a January 2013 Wall Street Journal article, Nicholas Carr wrote, "E-books…may turn out to be just another format -- an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones…The two forms seem to serve different purposes."

Frank Catalano, in his GeekWire article "Why eBooks won't rule the Earth," took it a step further. Catalano wrote, "But while many texts may head for an eBook future, not all will. Some types of printed books are likely to go in two wildly different directions: skipping eBooks entirely for other digital forms, or prevailing in paper."

Clearly, no single consensus on the future of e-books exists. The industry has only come on the publishing scene in the last decade, thriving yet unstable. Wars between e-book publishers and traditional publishers, paired with lawsuits about e-book price fixing charges, make the future of e-books a hazy one.

Breaking into the field

Though the future of e-books remains unknown, growth has led to more people working in the field. If you're interested in joining the e-book industry, you'll need the right skills.

Since the e-book industry is so new, schools haven't offered specific degrees in e-book publishing. However, other degrees in different fields may equip you with some of the skills that may be necessary to thrive in the industry. What you study may depend on which facet of e-books you want to go into.

If you want to publish your own e-books, consider gaining writing skills through a journalism or English degree, or become an expert in the subject you want to write about. If the business side of the industry interests you, consider studying business or marketing. If the technical or digital aspects of e-books excite you, look into degrees like new media studies or computer science.

Amazon vs. everywhere else

In the past, those interested in publishing moved to New York City. Now, some would-be publishers are moving to…Seattle to work at Amazon? You might want to, depending on which part of the e-book business you want to go into.

Forbes summarized the U.S. e-book market share in an article last year: Amazon at two-thirds, Barnes & Noble at a quarter, and everywhere else significantly lower. Nobody doubts that Amazon is winning in this field currently. You can either join them or take a different route.

Traditional publishers, like Random House, have adapted to the e-book growth, converting many of their print books to e-books. You could join traditional publishers as they attempt to make their mark on this emerging field, which may require a move to New York City.

If you're just interested in writing e-books, you can do that from anywhere. But you'll have different options of getting them published, whether through a traditional publisher that also publishes e-books or a company like Amazon. One neat self-publishing route to look into is Amazon's Createspace, which makes your e-book available on Amazon.com and the Barnes & Noble website, as well as in print.

Like any evolving and competitive field, you yourself must evolve and compete. If you are able to gain the skills in college and upon graduation to work in the e-book field, you may have the opportunity to dive into this exciting industry.

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