A hot Christmas may be followed by a chilling Spring
No new facts today, just some perspective.
Google has launched and Copia has launched. Kindles and Nooks are on sale in consumer electronics stores far and wide. iPads continue to roll out by the millions and recent evidence suggests that consumers are very happy reading ebooks on them.
I’ve made the point on the blog before that every book purchased online is another nail in the coffin of brick-and-mortar bookselling. All ebooks are purchased online (despite some charming, but futile, fantasies to the contrary.) Even with the Google proposition enabling all stores to participate in the ebook marketplace, which may motivate Amazon to try a similar proposition (and, considering the hostility of competing book retailers toward Amazon, good luck with that), it all adds up to less support for brick-and-mortar. Google ebooks might help some bookstore owners generate some margin, but that doesn’t mean it will keep more stores open.
(Look at it this way. If you ran a bookstore and found that through Google you were able to sell more and more virtual goods while your brick-and-mortar sales were declining, would you invest what you were earning through the new and growing channel in the old and declining one?)
This is not the moment for chewing over stats. We’re in the middle of a huge acceleration in digital reading. I have seen it suggested that this year might mark the first when Christmas will be the book business’s biggest sales day, because all those ereader recipients unwrap their presents and immediately go online to load up their machines.
There will be lots of opportunities for statistics-based observation after the turn of the year and we’ll be doing a lot of it at Digital Book World. (We just got some early data from iModerate, which is looking at ebook consumption on multi-function devices for us, and it is provocative.)
I’m expecting that what brick-and-mortar booksellers will experience in the first six months of 2011 will be the most difficult time they’ve ever seen, with challenges escalating beyond what most of them are now imagining or budgeting for. If I were programming a show for six months from now for the book industry, I’d plan for that to be Topic A.
Things happen “gradually, then suddenly.” I think the next six months will make what we’ve been experiencing for the past year look very gradual. I know smart people who have thought for the past year that there would be some flattening coming soon in the ebook switchover. It doesn’t feel that way to me.
I linked immediately above to a post of mine from last Spring in which I got something pretty damn wrong: figuring that iBookstore’s early success would be sustained and that Random House would find it “necessary” to switch to Agency, even though I saw the logic in their initial decision to stay out. As it has turned out, iBookstore’s share appears to have declined, even as the use of iPads and iPhones as ereaders has grown. Many more ebook titles are available for those devices through other sources which now, emphatically and ironically, include Google. Because Google is delivering a lot more illustrated and complex-page ebooks to the market than there were before, it will make the iPad even more valuable. So as Google Ebooks succeed, iBookstore doesn’t benefit but Apple very well may.
I’m a baseball fan and I think both hitters and future predictors should be happy if they bat .300. I’m not embarrassed to be pointing out one of the times that I made an out.