Within three years, one half of all domestic book sales will be digital in nature. Either this prediction holds true—–or I will be buying bestselling author Roy H. Williams dinner at the fanciest restaurant in Austin (better bust out the clean jeans). Actually, Roy is being generous – he is giving me until the 2012 presidential election to prove my prognosticating prowess. Unintimidated, I followed our bet up by stating my belief that digital book sales will consume 80% of the total by 2014.
A bit bold, perhaps, but I’m telling you—–change is in the air. It is so thick authors, agents and publishing conglomerates were choking all over it at Book Expo America 2009 a couple of weeks back. Read my BEA 2009 summary. But two things have to happen for me to come away looking like Nostradamus:
1. The price of digital reading devices must become accessible to the masses. Amazon.com is currently selling the 6” wireless, second-generation Kindle for $359, while Sony is offering its Reader Digital Book starting at $299.99. These prices are too high. They create a barrier to entry that, unadjusted, will keep the adoption of these devices from reaching critical mass. Mp3 players faced the same dilemma when they were introduced in 1998. Remember the old and trusty MPMan F10 from Seahan? Me neither, probably due to its not-so-well-received retail price of $250 ($330.22, using today’s Consumer Price Index). Seven years later, Apple introduced the $99 iPod Shuffle and watched sales shuffle straight up into the stratosphere.
2. E-books—–from all-time classics to current bestsellers—–must become widely available in 99-cent bytes. iTunes has trained us to digest our music this way, and based on the fact that Apple has sold more than 6 billion songs through this platform since 2003, it appears we like the taste. So it’s not surprising to read that new Kindle users are complaining about the price of e-books being too high. (Two-thirds of all Kindle e-books are $9.99 or less.)
When these two things happen, the book industry will have an entirely new look. I am already reading stories about Apple unloading truckloads of books into their Cupertino, California, headquarters. And Google recently announced it expects to be selling new e-books by the end of the year. Hmmm. So the same company that has spent the last three years fighting for their right to provide a free full content search of over 7 million books is now going to put that same content up for sale? Does anybody else smell an iTunes pricing model here?
Oh yeah—–and I happen to know some Silicon Valley investors who are watching the changing book industry landscape real close about now. They saw what being in the right place at the right time did for those companies who facilitated the evolution of the music industry, and they wouldn’t mind doing the same for books.
So the question becomes, how soon might these things occur? Will it take another seven years before somebody (Apple) comes out with a high-quality $99 digital reader? Will it take that long, or longer, before somebody (Apple) makes the entire library of books available in 99-cent doses? I doubt it, but if so, it looks like dinner is on me.
Questions about how to prepare for the changes pervading the book industry may be directed to Michael R. Drew at the Austin, Texas, headquarters of Promote A Book: 512-858-0040. You can also contact Michael via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.