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E-books - are they the future?

The current issue of The Author (the house magazine of the Society of Authors) has a lot about e-books. There is a particularly interesting piece by Eoin Purcell, called Cannibalism, in which he says that the most important question is whether this form of publishing will get more people reading or will simply reduce the market for print books without increasing the number of readers. He is not very optimistic.
While the idea of increasing the consumption of e-readers is alluring, it does not suggest that the size of the audience is going to grow rapidly, or indeed at all. ... The inescapable conclusion is that as print falls, e-books will rise to compensate, but the market for reading will not grow.
How quickly print will shrink is uncertain, Purcell thinks. It could be either rapid or more gradual, but eventually we will see print confined to three forms: expensive luxury editions, a few high-profile runs of 'best sellers', and the remainder as print-on-demand. I'd agree with this forecast; in fact, I think we are already quite a long way towards its realisation.

I don't have an e-reader and have no intention of getting one in the near furture, though I may have to do so eventually. Meanwhile, I am continuing to put my own books out as e-books via Smashwords. My initial experience is quite encouraging. I have 5 books up at the moment and already sales are close on a hundred. While this is not a huge number, I'm confident that it will grow, and the income I derive from these sales is considerably more than I would be getting if the books were being published by a mainstream print publisher as paperbacks. And the books won't go out of print.

Smashwords distributes in a variety of formats for different e-readers, which is a big plus. They also don't charge for this. The main problem for me is that you have to submit books in Microsoft Word doc format, and as I don't use Microsoft I have to generate the files by using Open Office. I'm glad this exists, otherwise I'd be pretty much stuck, but I don't like having to use it. I mostly write with a combination of a text editor (Vim) and LyX (for final fancy formatting), but it is not too easy to convert LyX files into a form that Open Office can read. Even when that is done and the file has been saved in doc format, Smashwords doesn't always like it and more fiddling is required to make it acceptable.

The vast majority of books on Smashwords are self-published, mine included. This is not the case with all e-books, as mainstream print publishers are increasingly putting out books in this format as well - sometimes at prices that are even higher than their print versions! Although I have had a number of books published by 'regular' publishers in the past, my feeling now is that their stranglehold on the market deserves to be broken, so I'm broadly in favour of the anarchy which seems likely to ensue as a result of the expansion of e-books. But the downside, of course, is that the market is liable to be swamped by a flood of unfiltered valueless writing. I'm not sure that there is an answer to this


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