Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we'd be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Market Hype and e-Books

One of the posts I was working on back in January when I lost my job was about the nonsense about how "e-books are the future!" Well, here's another person's take on it, Tom Dupree e-Books Rock But Will They Rule?

And the answer is, not really. Don't get me wrong, e-books will grow fast in the next decade. They really have no place else to go. I see several applications where e-books are preferable to print. See Tom's article for some. No, really, go see his article for how people are using their e-readers. While all printed material is classified as "ephemera", some are more ephemeral than others. And it's my prediction, that the most ephemeral aspects will be taken over by the e-readers (newspapers, magazines, things you read once and then toss). Temporary printed needs like the manuscript and movie scripts will also be converted quickly. Why? Because e-readers are better at this (and once someone crosses and e-reader with pen markings on the page, it'll be killer).

At the latest novel critiquing weekend, one of the critiquers used their e-reader to do their critiquing. Several of us did our critiques on the electronic files themselves (not bothering to print out hardcopy). I did this myself. I don't like it, but the economics make it preferable (that is, given my druthers, I would rather mark-up hardcopy).

Textbooks and reference books (as someone taking classes now can tell you, hauling text books is a royal pain) will be up next. Right now there are secondary markets that are keeping textbooks still on the printed side (and market forces in that e-book readers are expensive and e-books aren't all that less expensive). Being able to add content (video, blackboard tie-ins, highlighting, note taking, personal adjustment to texts, etc) will all make the difference here. Also, economically, the ability to sell old books and cut your overall costs will mitigate the acceptance of e-books, which you really can't return (although a change of market from buying to renting maybe in order here, which an option to purchase for those books you want to keep).

Now, here's some of the interesting things to keep in mind. First up, I've stated before that music and reading materials are different (especially for anti-piracy schemes). But here's some numbers (I wish I had all my links for this, sorry).

Napster took the music world by storm in 1997. The Apple iTune's Store revamped how music was sold in 2003. As of last year, even with the "explosive" growth of online music sales, they only accounted for less than 33% of unit sales (all the music sites, not just the iTunes Store). Unit sales. That means every single sold online counted as one. I don't think any brick and mortar store or Amazon sells singles on media. That means (expensive) physical CDs are outselling mostly singles (cheap) 2 to 1 over a decade after the revolution. Most people are still getting most of their music off of physical media (which they may then rip to their MP3 players).

So, do I think e-books will overtake printed media anytime soon? I see the easy stuff going quickly (newspapers, magazines). Newspapers will be quickly replaced (market demographics). Developing a new advertising paradigm (probably based on internet ads) will be most critical. Industries that use a lot of very temporary, but high quantity of printed materials will convert next (manuscript reading and the like). Magazines not so fast (kids still read them a lot, cost of e-readers are a little out of their range). Reference and text books will be after that. My guess is e-readers will take about 30% of novel sales in the next decade. The cost of e-books isn't low enough to alter the market for books. It'll be an "ease of use, I can carry my whole library, and download a new book in a minute" argument. That's not normally enough of a benefit for most people.

Just keep in mind, not everybody has a cell phone (let alone a smart phone), a computer (or internet access), or is in love with technology. And many of those people buy books.


Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

I've used my Sony PRS-300 at my last two readings at SF cons. You can download RTF files from your computer, set the font to Large and as long as you anticipate the page turn, you can read pretty smoothly.

Dr. Phil

Mer said...

I will say, while I occasionally felt hobbled by critiquing on my e-reader, it made me focus on broader issues and not get lost in line editing, as I am often wont to do. I'm not saying I'll ever do it that way again, but it was good for *me* as a critiquer, since when I have a hard time articulating broader issues, I devolve to line edits, and I think, fail to give the bigger picture.

That said, I'd prefer being able to mark up the MS to some extent.

But it sure was nice not to a) haul paper; b) be on the same page as the author, since I didn't have to change the font/size/pagination just to save paper.

Steve Buchheit said...

Dr. Phil, watching Karl Schroeder do his readings from his cell phone was an eye opener (but you could tell when he reached the end of the screen). And I think that readers will work well for that (after all, many read from their computers).

Mer, that might be interesting. Sometimes I get drown down into the nitty gritty. I also found that proofing on the computer file itself, I wasn't making as many "word suggestions" as I normally do. But I do agree that not hauling the paper around is a distinct advantage (and one enough to drive it's acceptance).

Elizabeth said...

once someone crosses and e-reader with pen markings on the page, it'll be killer

The Sony reader does that now. I critted all the first 50s like that - and then discovered that Sony doesn't let you *print* your markings, or even view them on your own computer unless the device is connected. So I had to recopy them all by hand.

Not quite killer yet, but if it weren't for what is surely a deliberate crippling on their part rather than a technological difficulty, it'd be awesome.

Vagabond said...

As a kindle owner, I can tell you that e-book readers are a boon to anyone who uses mass transit on a daily basis. I don't really use them for newpapers or magazines, but they are great for books I'm taking a flyer on. The lower cost and electronic format means I am more willing to try new authors, and my shelf isn't full of half read paperbacks. I always have the option to go and buy a book I think is incredible and will want to read again and again. After all, nothing takes the place of the tactile pleasure a bibliophile gets from reading a well written and constructed book!

Steve Buchheit said...

Elizabeth, yeah, that's the problem. It's still all proprietary, and for all the wrong reasons (marketing related instead of technology related). Once someone decides to open it up (Apple might - might be the one that does it, I'm not going to hold my breath though) it'll go crazy.

Vagabond, you are, however, an early adopter (as I remember most of your posts here and elsewhere). So my guess is that for many technologies you're at the leading edge. And an e-reader is good (I'm not saying they aren't), but I am saying all the hype about "print being dead" and "say good-bye to dead-tree editions" and "wave of the future" (the last needing to be said with reverb set on high) is just hype.

E-readers are being equated to the mp3 revolution in music when in reality it is more like when music went from vinyl to CD. There are no real "killer" advantages. The major one is "not as heavy" (which translates to the "won't shatter if you drop" of CDs). Secondary considerations are cost (which see Amazon versus every damn publisher on the price myth). And tertiary is the convenience of getting a book "instantly".

The killer app for mp3s are "sharing." That drove the market acceptance. You won't see that for e-books (except as loss-leaders which is being done successfully - see BAEN et al). So something else will need to happen. And again, will all the "success" of mp3s, they're still only 33% of the market (unit sales) a full decade after the killer app.