eBooks aren’t exactly the sexiest products to talk about when it comes to digital products, but there’s no denying their prominent place in today’s market. eBooks have been around far longer than most current digital technologies, and taken as a product they’re still growing in demand and diversifying their appeal to consumers. eBook sales continue to rise and even outpace the sale of physical books; recently the British publishing giant Bloomsbury reported that its eBook sales had increased by 89% this year alone.

eBooks have never been universally embraced with the same passion as say tablets or smartphones. Some people oppose eBooks because they see them as the digital killers of the
classic paperback; they might find that reading a book on an eReader doesn’t have the same draw as reading a physical book, or they see eBooks as a harbinger for the end of reading as we know it.

I’d like to take a sort of “state of the union” approach of eBooks and assess how they factor into the digital experience right here and now—where they succeed, where they need improvements, and what their future looks like for readers and authors alike.

eBooks enjoy selective commercial success

Even with its detractors—and though plenty of people oppose the eBook, the camp seems to diminish with each passing year—the eBook has enjoyed huge success recently. The success of
the eBook can be contributed to several key factors.

First, more people have eReaders or tablets that can double as them. The huge popularity of Amazon’s line of Kindles and Apple’s iPad (and the more eReader-friendly iPad mini) has given millions of people easy access to eBooks just a tap away. Second, publishers have warmed to the fact that best-selling physical books will probably sell well as eBooks. Millions of people have bought books like Fifty Shades of Grey and entries in the Hunger Games series are what’s driving the bulk of eBook sales. But the release of classic novels in eBook format has also driven sales; more and more people have overcome their eBook biases through experiencing their favorite novels in digital format.

eBooks have made self-publishing east

There are obvious problems with the above mentioned successes. Authors without a blockbuster novel under their belt can’t hope to publish an eBook with a major publishing house that’s bent on making profits from established authors and brands. So does an author with a manuscript and a dream do? They self-publish their work as an eBook.

Self-publishing has gone through somewhat of a boom in recent years thanks to eBooks. Before the popularity of eBooks it was relatively difficult for an author to distribute a self-published work through enough channels to make the enterprise profitable. Now with services like Lulu and Smash words authors can not only publish their own work, but they can do so to an available audience that’s hungry for new books. A recent article in Forbes explains the successes of the self-publishing industry, whereby some of the more popular online self-publishing services have released titles in the tens of thousands! That’s a lot of self-published work, and all of it is in eBook format.

The eBook’s limitations

Minor and major successes aside, there’s still plenty of work to be done before eBooks are fully embraced by our digital culture. While many authors have the opportunity to self-publish their work, relatively few of them are doing so to the point where it’s earning them any real money. Print books will still outsell eBooks in some areas, at least for the time being.

But perhaps the biggest limitation currently facing eBooks is their implementation in higher education. Not too long ago Apple made a splash in the news by announcing their interactive
iBooks, promising that they would soon be in classrooms around the US. Though the idea of iBooks and digital textbooks in general sounds great in theory, it’s a much more difficult matter in practical terms. Few colleges or high schools can afford to put tablets in the hands of every students, not to mention the many students already under the weight of loans who can’t afford tablets or mobile devices.

A recent article from USA Today explains that rental textbooks, not eBooks, are the popular choice for cash-strapped students. Though educational eBooks might enhance a student’s
capacity to learn, they’re still too expensive to be considered for an entire student body. In the field of education, at least, it just seems like eBooks need more time before they become a
mainstream commodity.

What’s your take on the state of eBooks and digital reading in general? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger and writer who covers stories on higher education, online colleges, freelancing as a career, and general business management for bestcollegesonline.com.