Thursday, August 05, 2010

E-book is the sexiest word in publishing

NOTE: I'm pleased to have Dave Sheets as a guest blogger for Innovation in Mission. I look forward to the discussion his post will generate. You can find more info on Dave at the end of this post. -- Jon Hirst

Amazon’s announcement last month that they had sold more e-books than hardcover books set off a blizzard of stories about e-books, the death of the printed book, and how the industry is going down the same path as the music publishers.

I, for one, am skeptical of a lot of what is being written, but it is important to note that e-book sales are growing and that they are changing the face of the publishing (and reading) industry. As noted, the news is full of big numbers and even bigger predictions. According to Amazon’s Kindle Vice President, Ian Freed1, “We're pretty sure we're 70 to 80 percent of the [e-book] market.” That is significant, even if there is disagreement as to actually how much Amazon owns. In fact, in addition to Amazon’s announcement about hard covers, they expect their e-book sales to eclipse their softcover sales sometime in 2011.

Does this mean the death of the printed book? Markus Dohle2, the head of mega publisher Random House recently was quoted as saying that even though e-book sales are growing “by leaps and bounds”, they only account for 8% of US revenues this year, and may exceed 10% next year.

Dohle, however, doesn't believe that the majority of book readers are ready to make the jump from books to bytes – something that Amazon has been suggesting3 over the past two weeks.

The e-book is today, what the cheap paperback was to the publishing industry 75 years ago. According the Guardian newspaper4, this new “disruptive technology” could carry the same results as the paperback book did – drive new masses of readers to content. But just as the paperback revolution did three quarters a century ago, the new e-book is threatening to drive prices down, which will be a paradigm shift for today’s content stewards.

According to the article, Jon Makinson, the chief of Penguin Publishing, echoes this shift when discussing how easy it is for readers to carry dozens of books with them on their devices. He says that this will "redefine what we do as publishers." The sales trend for Penguin is still growing. Even so, digital book sales are still less than 1% for the media giant, but the direction of the market is clear. In the US, digital books already account for 6% of consumer sales.

Malkinson5 goes on to say that publishers must embrace innovation: "I am keen on the idea that every book that we put on to an iPad has an author interview, a video interview, at the beginning. I have no idea whether this is a good idea or not. There has to be a culture of experimentation, which doesn't come naturally to book publishers. We publish a lot of historians, for example. They love the idea of using documentary footage to illustrate whatever it is they're writing about."

Digital books seem to be expanding the market according to some, while others say that the numbers show that e-books are simply moving the reader from one platform to another. As the sales continue to climb, studies will help publishers understand which of these cases is actually true. But for now, Malkinson shows his understanding of consumer behavior. "You have to give the consumer what the consumer wants – you can't tell the consumer to go away…if the consumer wants to buy a book in an electronic format now, you should let the consumer have it."

Where does that leave the book manufacturers? As I pointed out in a previous blog post6, the guys looking over their shoulders these days are the traditional long run printers. As e-books gain in popularity and sales, publishers are going to look at digital printing more and more, and for companies like Snowfall Press, this is wonderful news indeed.

What do you believe will happen to printed books?


    Dave Sheets
    Business Development Consultant in Publishing and Printing
    Outlaw Sales Group LLC


Wolf Hoelscher said...

It's hard to say where any of this will lead if anywhere, but would you agree that the digital revolution is leveling the playing field for independent publishers now that it's becoming more economically feasible for small companies to print and market books? For anyone tired of the onslaught of generic titles coming from the Big Six, I believe this is good news.

Planter said...

I personally will always want a traditional style book in my hand. You can flip through it in a layered linear way that can not be done in e format. There is something satisfying about writing in a book with my own hand writing and coming back to it later. There is an archivalist feature that comes with a regular book that is not quite the same with e-text on other books. I will probably be hybrid guy, boith e and regular, but I will always use regular paper books.

dave said...

I agree with you. The digital revolution is making it much easier for the giants and the micros to compete side by side. I believe digital printing will enable more titles to be published, and in more niche markets. Customized content is the next wave, and is already being tested as an 'on-demand' option. I know a one-man publishing house who just won a best-in-class fiction award for his category. The other two publishers each had more than 300 people on their staffs. That would not have happened five years ago.
It is good news.

dave said...

I am with you. I think the e-book enables some options (portability for one) but there will always be some printed books as well. The interesting thing, will be how these physical books will be produced in the future. Print runs are shrinking, and print-on-demand is becoming a very economical option. The ultimate solution will be when publishers only print a physical book when it is sold, and eliminate the inventory, carrying costs, warehousing and obsolescence issues they currently deal with.
Long live the paper book!