Sunday, April 4, 2010

E-Book Futures

All sorts of people have made predictions about e-book market penetration.  I'm making my own.  What qualifies me?  I am a technologist who has been studying the publishing industry in-depth for a few years now.  How good are these predictions?  Don't bet money on them being correct.

The first question is what is the market we're talking about?  I'm going to consider only adult and YA fiction.  I don't have any comment on non-fiction, textbooks, or children's lit.

A lot depends on pricing models and exclusivity.  In the video game industry, for instance, there are many titles you can only get on one platform.  The (painful) equivalent would be that if you wanted to read anything from Cormac McCarthy, you could only do it on a Nook, but Neil Gaiman's work could only be bought on a Kindle.  How many e-readers would you buy?  My hope is that even the marketing departments of these companies can see that the end result would be fewer people reading, fewer books sold, and less money for themselves (for everyone, really, but they only care about their own bottom-line).

On the other hand, the whole thing could move to a consumables basis.  Sell the e-reader for cost or below, and make money on the product -- the content -- the e-books themselves.  I like this approach because the reader is paying for what's important.  When you go to a restaurant they don't charge you $10 for a plate and let you fill it with whatever you want, right?  They charge you for the food, and part of that goes to pay for the plate and the service and the building. [Unless you go to one of those buffet places, and you do pay $10 for your plate.  Argh! -- but then you eat too much, so would that mean people would read too much?]

Non-Predictions (to get them out of the way)
  • How will the agency model work out?
  • Will Amazon / Apple / Google shutdown all the independent booksellers?
  • Will they shutdown the bookstore chains?
  • Will the combined presence of all those e-readers destroy the stores instead?
  • Will the "you don't own that e-book, you're really just leasing it from us" issue dampen the market?
  • Will DRM (I'm talking about intrusive DRM), and the lack of lend-ability turn off readers?
  • In 2015, 50% of all adult fiction be sold as e-books.  It will be driven by dropping hardware prices and by the Romance market, which has already become a leader in the e-book transition.
  • I predict a $50 e-reader at Walmart by Christmas 2014.  It'll be crap, but it'll have a (perhaps unhealthy) influence on the e-book market and buyer expectations.


  1. I have a lot of friends who are e-book published, and the quality of their work varies considerably. With an increased market for erotica, stories few women (and maybe men?) would want to carry to the checkout at Borders, dozens of small e-book presses have popped up. The length of the stories vary along with the price, and they can be downloaded directly to your computer.

    That being said, I have no interest in reading a full length book on an electronic device. You can't cuddle up with your desktop at night before bed. And after a day spent on the computer, my eyes are ready for a break.

    I have friends who love the Kindle. I love the feel of the book, the smell of fresh new pages. I guess at some point I'll need to catch up with the rest of the reading community....but I plan to hold out as long as I can.

    E-books/e-readers are big business for mainstream publishing as well. Here is a link to an article about Amazon trying to get control of the e-book market.

    And for you gamers, if you're interested I can send you a link to an article about Harlequin Romance books being sold for Nintendo DS in Japan.

  2. I prefer traditional books, but I think e-books make more sense in a lot of ways. I definitely agree with your comment about already spending all day on the computer.

    It's strange -- I know only one person who has a Kindle. She loves it. There are probably more, but she's the only one I know of.

    And that's an excellent point about the "embarrassment factor" -- I had a colleague who insisted that a huge driver of early market acceptance for digital cameras was personal pornography: pictures you'd get in trouble for if they were processed at the local 1-hour photo place. Now you've got me wondering....

  3. Hi John!
    I found a blog I think you'll like. Donald Maas has a great post up today, and if you scroll down you'll see a post on the new Apple Ipad that talks a bit about e-books.
    I hope you enjoy!