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: