I'm probably in the minority, but I truly believe that digital publishing will, for all intents and purposes, replace print publishing. Here's how I think it will happen:
1) Over the next 15 years, Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, B&N Nook, The iPad, etc. will be joined by a dozen other eReaders, and the price of those devices will come down markedly. Some shrewd companies will offer to "give" their eReaders away with a paid yearly contract, say, you'll purchase 20-30 eBooks a year. Much like cell phones now. You can get a BOSS COOL phone, IF you sign up for a plan, right?
2. Print Publishers will continue to operate, but they will need to change the way of doing business or they will perish. Here's how they will need to change:
A) Forced to compete with ePublishers who offer much better royalty percentages to authors, print publishers will offer dual royalties, raising the percentage of print royalty money and including a very high percentage of eBook money.
B) Over time, print publishers will have smaller and smaller print runs of all but the biggest name authors. Smaller quantities will be shipped to brick-n-Mortar stores and be available to the consumer in what will be a "collector's only" market.
C) Print Publishers will modernize their operations to become "Print on Demand" publishers. With smaller print runs and smaller numbers of books in-store, publishers will find a way to take "demand" orders, print, and send books as fast or faster than Amazon currently ships. It may be that brick and mortar stores will open up their own printing presses, kind of like Kinkos, and will be able to print your book "while you wait."
3) Authors will wake up and realize that they are strong. For decades, the creative artist has been exploited by the music industry, publishers, radio, tv, film, etc. In publishing for instance, it's very common for an author to make just 10-12% of what a book actually sells for, in many cases, that's off the publisher's sell price to the brick and mortar chains. That means 88-90% of the book money is going somewhere else besides the artist. Obviously, there are a lot of people who currently play a part in getting a book to the shelf, and all these people need to get paid too, right? But shouldn't the artist get a larger percentage? Look at it this way: Can you imagine if Pro Football players only received 10-12% of their contracted millions, and the rest went to the people who coach, train, design uniforms, etc? It's not a perfect analogy, I admit. But if it worked like that, how long would the NFL survive?
With the advent of ePublishing, authors who are being exploited will begin to break away from their traditional print publisher shackles. They will become their own publishing companies, publishing eBooks exclusively or forming partnerships with print-on-demand companies.
4. We'll also begin to see a massive drop in price for eBooks. Right now, publishers are going to the mattress with Amazon over eBook prices. Traditional publishers want their "eBooks" priced at 60-80% of what the hardcover paper book would cost. Makes sense for the publisher who would make a MASSIVE windfall of profit since they can chop 70% of their production budget on every eBook. After all, no charge for paper, no charge for binding, no charge for shipping, warehousing, etc. Amazon wants the price low. Why? Increased profits. They know that pricing eBooks too high will cut WAY down on who buys. It is digital info, after all. Intellectual value? Yes. Material value? No. And that leads to the next reason that the price will go low: High price leads to digital piracy.
We live in a broken world where people redefine right/wrong all the time. Guaranteed as soon as you price The Door Within Part 7 at $16.99, there are going to be those who pirate it. What about DRM protection? Sure, they'll try. But someone will find a way around it. Let's take a look at some hypothetical numbers.
eBook A priced at $12.99 sells 4,600 copies in a year. If the publisher makes 50% profit on that book, then, the publisher takes in $29,877 profit on that book.
eBook B priced at $2.99 sells 50,000 copies. If the publisher takes in even 30% of that pie, the publisher makes $44,850. That's a substantial upgrade.
5. The Public Will Decide. In the past, publishers have used their various formulae and observations to determine what they believe they can sell. Then, they judge the quality of potential manuscripts and make the call about what will sell. Hopefully, they get it right, and good books get published. Poor quality books, don't.
That may continue in some capacity as Amazon and other online publishers may adopt some quality standards for what they will publish. But largely, the public will decide. People will go hunting for new books, trying to discover the "next big thing." Word of mouth will travel--at light speed online. And goodstuff will rise out of the murky not-so-good-stuff.
Maybe Amazon will adopt a "sell so many copies or get booted off the site" policy. Not sure. But more than ever before, the public will determine what they like. And that sounds good to me.
But, you might argue, you mean ANYONE can get published? Then there will be tons of terrible material out there to wade through. Yes and no. There might be a quality control standard in place, kind of watchdogs for the digital marketplace. Or, there may not. But either way, the reality is that most people want to have a book published. But most people don't want to do the work required to get a book published. Writing a book is hard work. It requires discipline, passion, and sacrifice. Butt-in-chair means it's not on the golf course or at Don Pablos sipping a cherry Pepsi.
So will there be a little extra chaff to sift through? Yes. But look at it this way. Isn't there already a ton of chaff out there being published? I've read a few books in my time that made me want to say, "Now there's six hours of my life I won't get back."
In conclusion: I love paper books. I may never buy an eBook myself. I like rooms full of books. I like holding books. I take books to the beach and up into my bed. But I was born with paper books. I might feel very differently if I was born with an iPad in my hand. And, unless I'm way off here, the publishing world is about to be hit by a digital temblor...because this generation is the digital generation.