The e-book evolution

  • User experience designer Amy Woods scrolls through the Safari Books Online website during a team meeting at the Safari Books Online headquarters in Sebastopol, California on Wednesday, January 4, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Change is never easy. And when one industry's massive rise ushers in another's decline, the only way forward is to adapt.

The book publishing industry, and the retailers who select and sell millions of stories and educational guides to their readers, are undergoing massive transformation, as smartphones and tablets find their way into the hands of the curious.

One in six Americans now use an electronic device to read books, and one in six were considering buying one within the next six months, according to a study released by Harris Interactive this fall.

And sales of e-books increased 1,040 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the Association of American Publishers.

"I certainly think that they're already mainstream," said Andrew Savikas, chief executive officer of Safari Books Online. The Sebastopol company is a leader in the e-books industry, carving out a successful business a decade ago by catering to tech-savvy consumers and early adopters.

"What you're seeing now is so exciting. You're seeing a much wider audience," he said.

"At the same time, that doesn't mean that all print products will go away," Savikas added. "There will always be a market for certain types of printed books, but over time that will shift toward books that are valued as artifacts and souvenirs."

In the book publishing industry, e-books are widely expected to generate 50 percent of the industry's revenues within the next five years, according to Publisher's Weekly. Sales of electronic books continue to grow, month after month, while hardcover and paperback books slide.

Rather than bemoan the growth of a product that could chip away at their core business, some independent bookstores and brick-and-mortar publishers are embracing the trend, and adapting their business models to the digital age.

Copperfield's Books quietly launched an e-books business this winter, a move that enables customers to marry the old with the new by walking into the bookstore to check out a book in their hands, and then upload the digital book to their devices.

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