The E-Book Revolution

There has been a lot of speculation recently regarding the future of e-books and whether they are going to be the next big thing. What we do know at this point is that Amazon has sold 240, 000 Kindles. Given these numbers, Techcrunch’s Erick Schonfield suggested that Citi analyst Mark Mahaney update his most recent projections for the future of the Kindle (and to some extent e-books in general). Mahaney’s new numbers suggest that Kindle sales estimates should be around 378,000 for this year, 934,000 next year, and 4.4 million in 2010. These are not numbers to scoff at. If Mahaney’s projections are correct the Kindle will be a $1 billion for Amazon by 2010.

The big question for me is that even though these numbers are high, can e-books really win over the mass-audience. Two recent articles, one from Naomi Alderman and another from Peter Conrad of the UK’s Guardian give light to the different sides of this debate. Naomi on one hand advocates the move toward e-books. She is fed up with the piles of books overwhelming her apartment and finds the Kindle easy to use and convenient. Peter on the other hand stuggles to accept that e-books are the future. He argues that reading ebooks actually left him feeling alienated from books he used to love growing up. These two perspectives highlight the seperate camps very well and it is hard to say whether either one represents the mass public at this point.

I personally think we are going to have to wait longer than just 2 years to see a large move to e-books. The cost of an e-book reader is still a large up front investment when compared to the one off price of a paperback. What I will say is that in certain segments, where people have to buy large amounts of books that they must use on a regular basis, the student market for example, we will see a fairly substantial adoption of e-book technology. Students can offset the cost of the reader by only purchasing individual chapters of textbooks as they need them, thus reducng their overall spending on textbooks for years to come. This makes perfect sense and I see the student (as they often do) leading the e-book revolution. The only hurdle I see holding students back is the inability to easily highlight text. Yes, you are able to click and drag a virtual highlighter, but nothing will ever replace the relaxing sensation of passing a hightlighter over a line of text or scribbling notes with a ballpoint pen outside of the columns.

This is going to be a very interesting industry to watch over the next 5-10 years and if the new projections are correct Amazon is very well positioned to ride the wave, as they usually are. See Mark Mahaney’s numbers below:

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The E-Book Revolution

  1. I’m torn on the e-book concept myself. For a throwaway novel, fine. But really, part of reading a book is the feel of the paper in your hands, the texture of the cover, the smell, and the interaction with the pages. Until e-book readers can replicate that I don’t ever see them being a mainstay of my library.

  2. So in other words you look at a book as more of an art form than a consumption vehicle. This is a very interesting perspective and one that is shared by many people. I dont think the concept of physical libraries will ever go out of style and everyone must have the classics on their shelves. However, for the day to day grind I think e-books have a chance

  3. Tom

    Your “The E-Book Revolution” article is inaccurate. Go back and read the TechCrunch article again (the author had to backpedal from his earlier story). There were (supposedly) 240,000 Kindles shipped to Amazon, not necessarily sold by Amazon. Big, big difference. An that is assuming the ” unnamed source” is accurate.

    From three weeks ago: A “real” Kindle data point from a “real” source, that suggests less than, um, robust Kindle sales:

    “New York Times Co. executives said today during the company’s second-quarter earnings call that the newspaper has sold a “small amount” of subscriptions on the Kindle.”
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aTAkbKG_2PcM&refer=home

    If Your Analyst Gig Doesn’t Work Out, There’s Probably a Job for You in Amazon PR
    http://digitaldaily.allthingsd.com/20080812/kindle-2/

    Amazon’s unseen bestseller raises questions
    Commentary: Kindle e-reader draws hype, but actual sightings are rare
    http://tinyurl.com/6a6nl4

  4. Tom

    Thanks for your comment and subsequent links. After reviewing the numbers again I have noticed corrections stating that the 250,000 Kindles sold this year is actually a data point representing the number of Kindles shipped to Amazon. However, Schonfeld does point out that the numbers shipped compared to the numbers sold are quite close considering the Kindle has regularly been sold out.

    “As it turns out, those two numbers aren’t that far apart. Inventory has been so tight on the Kindle that it’s sold out at times, and it remains the No. 1 bestseller in the Electronics category.”

    I take it that you are not a proponent of the E-book revolution?

  5. eBooks have been responsible for confusing us all, from students to blog owners to publishers. If only we can figure out their real benifit! The company I work for probably publishes more ebooks than any other — we have over 19,000 titles available in a range of formats. But I see ebook readers such as Kindle and Sony as purely for the type of reading you do oustide of work or study. Where ebooks really add value now (at least in academic publishing) is the extra functionality: search, highlighting, annotations, internal referencing (index, table of contents) and external referencing (via DOIs a la electronic journal articles). Most of this is as yet not covered by the readers.

    And why should the readers cater for this — students and professionals already possess laptops! Why would they buy an ebook reader which has less functionality than an ebook accessed via a laptop (or tablet, or iPhone), which they already own?

    I think eBooks are at best an anachronism, at worst they are holding publishers back by distracting them from more creative content delivery. An ebook is still just a book — it’s just another format, like a paperback or hardback. In fact, most ebook files are a result of print production: a PDF file from the same production workflow as print books (I’m happy to say we are unusual in having an XML-first workflow).

    I believe the future of publishing lies in more disaggregation and reaggregation of content. Taking the chapters or paragraphs you want, and putting them together again into your own bespoke, custom text. Renting the content for as long or as short as you need. Publishers are slow to develop this sort of model and if we’re not careful the software developers will fill this gap before you can say “Kindle killer”.

  6. The e-book revolution is here. The main driving force is the fact that it is impossible to store, print and deliver paper-based books as it was possible for decades. A lot of authors have never been able to crack the publishing world’s nut – I mean big publishers often reject authors just because they can… The other problem is that piles of paper books are just increasing increasing… no way to keep it that way for the decades to come. Printing is expensive. Storing is expensive. Delivering is making every title more and more expensive. One Kindle author, Stepher Widwalker has sold more than 26,000 downloads of his non fiction title so far. That proves that for more and more authors and more and more readers e-books are a good option. E-books are here and will stay with us for the decades to come.

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