All Things "E": Google, Kindle, Apple, Nook & More
Eliminating the Kindle Content Middleman

2010 Predictions

Binoculars It's that time of the year. Time for new year's resolutions and predictions.  I won't bore you with the former but I'll take a crack at a few of the latter.

#1 -- The year of the richer ebook. Let's face it.  The e-future of this industry is not quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions.  Pricing pressures and  value propositions mean these will be nothing more than revenue rounding errors for the foreseeable future.  2010 will be the year where we'll see more investment in richer e-content products.  I'm not talking about simply slapping some video into a book, btw.  We'll see more digital-first initiatives where the print version, if there even is one, will be considered secondary.  Start thinking about not just reading but overall entertainment. Think also about the capabilities of multi-function devices, not dedicated e-readers.  More on that in a moment...

#2 -- Most publishers will largely ignore prediction #1.  Call it another case of "The Innovator's Dilemma".  Far too many publishers will continue treating e-content as an easy way to squeeze a few more bucks out of Kindle editions of print products.  Those publishers should remember that the core concept behind "The Innovator's Dilemma" is that this approach leaves the door wide open for a start-up to reinvent the entire industry.

#3 -- Single-purpose, dedicated devices lose momentum to multi-purpose ones.  Thanks in large part to prediction #1, more and more prospective customers will find it harder to justify a $300 investment in a dedicated device.  (Btw, I had a chance to play with a Nook at B&N recently.  I saw the potential but left discouraged.  They went to the trouble of adding a color display and do almost nothing with it.  And why in the world don't they open the device up to third-party developers to see what new and exciting uses the could come up with?!  But I digress...)

I'd like to clarify the point of this third prediction.  Apple already sells a lot more iPhones each month than Amazon sells of the Kindle.  I'm not talking about installed bases; I'm talking about how the devices are being used.  Most people probably wouldn't say they use their iPhone to do a lot of traditional reading today.  That's mostly because the longer-length products available are those quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions I mentioned earlier.  As we see more digital-first products though, I believe this rate will rise dramatically.  And that's regardless of whether Apple ever comes out with their rumored tabled device!

That's a glimpse of where I see things heading.  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you have any other predictions you'd like to add to this list?

Comments

Rob Schneider

Joe,

Terrific insight. I resonate with No. 2 the most as it stands out as being deliberate "business as usual". Very few organsations can change direction. It's just not possible 99.9% of the time.

Surely there were people in the banking industry who were saying "wait a minute, our models might not be right", or "these ratings on mortgage backed securities no longer make sense" etc. Surely there were people in Enron who noticed something awry before they fell. Surely there were people in satellite radio companies who noticed the internet was happening. Surely there were people in Time-Warner who thought merging with AOL was not necessarily a good idea. The list goes on even with current events (security, climate change assertions, virus pandemic forecasts, etc.).

My point is that publishers will find it impossible to change even though probably many of the people in leadership, middle management, and worker-level all know they have to change.

It is the madness of crowds, with most the people in the crowds unable and/or unwilling to think.

We live in interesting times.

Joel

I already do most of my reading on the iPhone (using Stanza) for the simple reason that I always have it with me. A lot of people I tell this to claim they would "never" be able to read using an iPhone form factor, so I'll be curious to see what happens.

Andy

Joe, I think your predictions are right on. But I'd add a few more:

#4 - E-book sales will rise along with e-reader sales - but then will decline, as (text) publishers begin to put out more and more content in different forms, more appropriate to the e-reading experience. My money's on short stories and novellas (for fiction) and articles (for non-fiction). Publishers might put them in packages called "books," but most will be far shorter - with much less filler - than today's books.

#5 - Under the pressure of competition from short-format text content, book (and e-book) prices will fall sharply.

#6 - New and non-traditional publishers will pioneer efforts to publish text content in new forms, and sell it in new ways, at low prices. And as a result...

#7 - Traditional book publishers will go out of business in droves, or be bought for their names, and see their staffs and spending cut to the bone.

#8 - Multi-purpose e-readers, i.e. media tablets, will indeed make a big splash - but single-purpose devices, a la Kindle, will thrive too. Kindle, with its lack of distractions, reasonable display quality, and access to a growing content library, is perfect for the small segment of the population that prefers immersive reading, of long-form content. These people aren't going away - and they buy a lot of content, so there's plenty of money to be made by selling them e-readers and e-books.

Bknotts

I think 2010 is the year the curve for the number of kids reading ebook starts to look like a hockey stick.

Walt Shiel

Well, Joe, I'm not sure I'd quite agree with #3. We've had multipurpose devices for a long time -- laptops, netbooks, iPhones, etc. I doubt that the presence of those devices has actually had much effect on the sales of single-use e-readers.

I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the mere presence of iPhone apps for reading books has reduced the number of dedicated e-readers being sold. I'm beginning to think that most people reading books on the multipurpose devices probably were never going to buy a Kindle, Sony Reader, Cool-er, etc. in the first place.

It's more likely that the ability to read on multipurpose devices has led to higher sales of e-books in general. Without those devices, I suspect that overall sales of Kindles et al would have been pretty much the same, but the sales curve for e-books might have had a flatter slope.

I also suspect that will be true for the much-touted (over-hyped?) "enhanced e-book" concept. It will appeal to those who react to the technology rather than those who actually want to read a book. The latter will keep reading their print books and/or read on dedicated e-readers.

Walt Shiel
Publisher, Slipdown Mountain Publications LLC

Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

E-book publishing will be an add-on, not a replacement for the usual hardcover-trade paper-mass market cycle for most books, and that includes the self-published ones where the author wants to make a living more than just to attract readers. Distribution is still the key and ease of use is still an issue. The current enthusiasm of geeks and other early adopters will not drive the market the way that simple human laziness does. Reading is hard. Most people avoid doing a lot of it. They will pay for the extra convenience and comfort of a bound book. Zipf's Principle of Least Effort wins again. I've been publishing e-books since 2004. If it were that easy I'd be publishing more of them instead of working on my next print edition.

jsb

On the third point, let's not ignore the importance of utility. Why should someone have to carry around an mp3 player, a phone, and a ereader (and even a laptop) when most of that functionality exists in a smart phone. I had been considering getting an ereader (mostly for time on public transit) and I had done my research and checked out in-store models still coming away dissatisfied. I decided to hold off a bit and wait for newer ereaders to come out. I ended up buying a Droid a month later and now I would be hard pressed to consider buying an ereader. I can understand the preference for an ereader for those who want a large screen, prefer a longer battery life, read extensively, or suffer eye strain; but once tablets can match a portion of these features (and price range), I can't imagine anyone would want an ereader with less functionality than a tablet.

Carl Diltz

I think you hit a grandslam home run, or as we here in the NW refer to it, a grand salami.

Siddhartha Banerjee

Your third prediction sounds spot on. This will be the year when real convergence comes back with a bang. Multipurpose devices will rule. With Google getting into phones, the days of Kindle and Sony Reader in their present form are numbered. Google's going to synchronize content and technology in one seamless package.

By the end of this year or early next year, we should see a Google device like the Droid Eris, only better, that brings us our phone calls, e-mails, music, audio books, streaming video,camera, the web, GPS .... and open source work documents (to supplement MS-Office)in one place.

Seminal times!

Siddhartha Banerjee
Oxford, Pa

Gary Clarke

Joe -

I agree and would like to add comment.

1.) Indeed! This is happening right now. Whether one looks at the growth in wholesale or retail ebook sales, the growth is there. It started slow and continues to build momentum. This momentum will accelerate this year owing to a number of factors including; emergence of viable tablet devices. Increasing acceptance of e.pub as a de facto standard, Adobe's focus on the digital publish business and macro-economic forces that will impact the entire publishing value-chain.

#2 Outside of the airline industry the publishing industry would seem to fit the old Special Forces joke; "If you're short of everything but enemy, you're in combat."

Rising operating cost? Check.
Decreased readership? Check.
Lower ad revenues? Check.
Substitutes in use? Check.
Attrition? Check.

Yep, you are in combat. And re-jiggering the old business model is not an effective strategy to address a chasm of missed expectations.

Adopting emerging technologies, developing and monitizing new content streams and employing aggressive market maneuvers are the only hope to revitalize and renew. Anything short of bold is simply confusing motion with action. Water swirling a drain is motion. Furloughing your most valuable assets (oh, that subject again...) will not deliver profitability any more than a pat on the head will prevent shock in a trauma victim.

3.) When something like the iPad comes along that offers increased functionality and achieves price parity with the latest single purpose devices, those single purposes devices will be cannibalized. Whether you explain it through economic concepts of negative income demand elasticity, or the simple recognition that the new devices do more, dollar for dollar, the 1st - 2nd generation e-ink devices are going to decline in adoption.

Gary

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