November 9, 2008

Tipping point for eBooks?

Original Post October 31st 2007.

This article about eBooks (and in this case focusing on the "book" type of content specifically) published in the UK Newspaper "The Independent" argues that eBooks is coming close to the "Tipping Point" (referencing the book by Malcolm Gladwell) as evidenced by the number of books being published (on paper) that are also published in one of the various eBook formats.

The article mentions events I have picked-up on here in previous blog postings (HaperCollins trial on the iPhone, etc), although I hadn't seen the news they state as "Booker Prize Foundation announced that – in conjunction with the British Council – it would release this year's shortlisted books as eBooks"

They focus on the pricing issue, arguing that eBooks should be cheaper than paper books but often aren't and compare this to MP3 music downloads.
On one level that is a fair comparison (or simile?), although there are differences. I can think of a few:-

  • Music is listened to not read, playing quality and "ease of listening" is similar when your headphones are connected to a computer (desktop or laptop) than a mobile device. Thus it started with a LARGE installed based of suitable listening (reading) devices. Don't forget iTunes (on Mac) preceded iPod and iTunes Store and iPhone. Also, that was leveraged to let people RIP CD's (remember "Rip, Mix, Burn"?) and get into "digital music" without the web or on-line purchases, or P2P networks etc.
  • A large selection of "good" mobile listening devices quickly appeared for mobile listening. Without arguing if the iPod was best, it certainly established the market and adoption spread rapidly. The technology barrier was lower to create a good listening device (especially a mobile one) than it is to create a good viewing device for books.
  • Diving into the economics of music downloads: a new phenomenon has appeared with digital music purchase on-line. Many more people are buying on a song-by-song basis and not buying the whole album and this consumer is thus "saving money" and finding the digital version cheaper than the physical version (CD) that bundles all the songs together at a larger price. This is difficult to apply to books. We can brainstorm applying it to newspapers or magazines, but advertising comes into that discussion and I'll leave that for another day.

BTW, why don't we even hear environmental concerns about CD (and their box) manufacture with all that non-renewable materials used?
At least paper is a renewable resource.
Is it because CD's are on the verge of dying just as environmental concerns come to the fore?

After the usual "print is dead", "print is dying", "print is alive and well" arguments for and against the article does touch on one phenomenon that is also happening in digital music, i.e. "author/artist direct to consumer sales" (can I invent the A2C acronym?) where there are no middle-men and commissions and the author of material (be it an album like Radiohead, or an eBook like this gentleman) sells the digital version direct to consumers over the web. Radiohead let you (the consumer) chose the price you pay (and 0 is a valid price!) which is brave, and they've reportedly made $12M already....

The article author states:
"So I did – but as 20,000-word ebooks, which I sold from my website at $7.77 each. To date, I've sold about 5,000, more or less by word of mouth. Not only are readers happy, but I get all the proceeds from sales rather than the 10 per cent I normally receive from my publishers."

You (as an author) chose! $3,500, or $35,000?

That has problems with people finding you, but does work if you are already an established "artist", you can get a cult following and work by word of mouth, or somehow leverage the web, viral advertising, word-of-mouth etc.

Maybe the different types of contracts signed by music artists with record labels, and the T's & C's about who owns the back catalog is significantly different than book contracts and so books could move this way more aggressively....?

But I doubt my first eBook (someday!) will have it's web server taken down by the on-rush of money-proferring consumers!
One can but dream!

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