The Shatzkin Files

Will book publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook publishers?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Being on the road in London and on my way to Frankfurt, where we have two Publishers Launch Conferences coming up on Monday and Tuesday, I don’t have time for what my British friends would call a “proper” blogpost, with a bit of research (I admit I never do much) and some links. But I’ve been thinking about something over the past month which I ran by a marketing VP at a major house last week. It looks like one of the really big questions facing the major houses in the next couple of years, so it seemed worth airing in the run-up to publishing’s largest global gathering.

Here’s an assumption that is not documentable; it is my own speculation. I think we’re going to see a US market that is 80% digital for narrative text reading in the pretty near future: could be as soon as two years from now but almost certainly within five. We have talked about the cycle that leads to that on this blog before: more digital reading leads to a decline in print purchasing which further thins out the number of bookstores and drives more people to online book purchasing which further fuels digital reading. Repeat. Etcetera.

We’re already at the point where new narrative text units sold are well north of 25% digital (percent of publishers’ revenue is lower than that, of course) and we are still in a period that has lasted about five years (soon to end) where the penetration of digital has doubled or more annually. (I italicized that to emphasize that what I’m talking about doubling is the percentage of sales that are digital, not the absolute number of digital sales. Several people misinterpeted that when I made to it previously.)

Of course, penetration will slow down before it reaches 100%. I’d imagine we get to 80% in 2 to 5 years, then then to 90% in another couple of years, with the last 10% stretching out a long time. How long did it take after the invention of the car before the last person rode their horse to town?

Now here’s a fact which is documentable, and would be documented right here on a day when time wasn’t in such short supply: brands that are not publishing houses are directly publishing their own ebooks with increasing frequency. Magazines and television networks and web sites are recognizing the reality that self-publishing ebooks is something they can do themselves without the complications (or revenue-sharing) that working with a publisher would require.

This is not a surprise to me, but it does really raise a point that major publishers have to consider: can book publishers add enough value to the ebook publishing process to persuade another brand with content credibility, one that has direct contact with the vertical community that is the audience for their books, to do their ebooks through the publisher rather than directly?

This is an existential question for big trade publishers. They have forged partnerships with other brands, even media brands, for many years based on their unique ability to deliver printed books competently and to put them on bookstore shelves. Those are things that a magazine, a broadcast network, a movie studio, or a packaged goods company couldn’t do for themselves.

Which leads to the conversation I had this past week with the marketing VP. We were discussing marketing topics suitable for Digital Book World this January. This house is doing some very important things that wouldn’t have been on their radar a few years ago: SEO, of course, but also developing vertical communities and organizing a corporation-wide effort to gather names and data and direct contact with readers (handicapped by the fact that they almost never actually consummate the transaction). I raised the question: “will publishers be able to persuade these non-publisher brands that it is worth giving up margin and some control to work with publishers in the years to come?”

“That’s a very tall order,” he said.

Random House has apparently succeeded in doing this a couple of times recently. They have made deals with two political web sites (Politico and Real Clear Politics) to do ebooks related to the 2012 presidential election. This is a big deal. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the principal output were print; Politico and RCP can’t do print. But they could do ebooks without Random House; literary agents all over town (among others) are lining up to offer the tools to enable that.

And the profound danger to the big publishers is that if outfits like Politico and RCP start by doing their own ebooks, who is to say they’d stop there? It would be a natural extension to start publishing other people’s ebooks themselves once they had built up a network and infrastructure to sell these files successfully. The thing for trade publishers to fear is that they would lose their role in the value chain, vertical by vertical.

Developing skills and capabilities that make their ebook-publishing ability superior to vertical brands is going to be essential for publishers’ survival as the skills and capabilities to do print publishing become less important commercially over time, as they will. Even if you disagree with my aggessive expectations for ebook market penetration, I think you’ll be able to substitute your own and come up with pretty much the same conclusion.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

  Back to blog

  • Anonymous

    An excellent analysis of how digital reading is gaining momentum! Almost the only factor you didn’t mention was the trend to ereader hardware getting cheaper and cheaper and the popularity of tablets like the iPad. I would also love to see you do a post on publishers’ workflows, which have all been print-centric and contribute to their difficulty in putting out error-free ebooks in a cost-effective manner. Unless you already did, and I missed it!

    • Did a big project called “StartWithXML” in 2008, I think. We have a presentation tomorrow at Publishers Launch Frankfurt from Sourcebooks about precisely that. It’s important, but a little geeky for me to write about much.


  • I saw one of those articles that misunderstood your point (greatly).  Silliness.

    • Thanks, Livia. Sometimes a word or two gets people inside their own thoughts so they stop absorbing somebody else’s. I’ve been guilty of doing that myself but it is annoying when it happens to me.


  • I think this is an excellent question – maybe THE question, for publishers, for writers and other content producers, for literary agents – for the entire publishing infrastructure.

    What can the publisher offer that the content producer cannot do? Or cannot easily outsource for very limited one time fees, rather than for a percentage?

    Because if the answer turns out to be “nothing”, then those literary agents you mentioned who are “lining up to offer the tools” are as dead in the water as anyone else. RCP won’t start offering to publish ebooks, because nobody will buy their services. They’ll all be doing their own.

    I see a very slim set of roads publishers could take to recover in digital publishing the level of importance they had in print.

    1) Brand themselves. In fiction today, for example, most readers do not recall the publisher of the last book they read; however, almost all recall the author’s name. In fiction, authors are very heavily branded, where most of the time publishers are not. Some publishers (much more in nonfiction than in fiction) do have powerful brands, and building more reader recognition into those brands could give publishers something strong to offer. If readers were as interested in buying the next Ace book as they were in buying the next Nora Roberts book, then the Ace name would have a powerful brand worth a percentage of the income.

    2) Market superbly to readers. Under print, publishers were often more concerned about marketing to bookstores than they were about marketing to readers. Get the chains to buy a book, and generally readers would follow, and books would sell. Not quite that simple, I know. 😉  Under digital, though, the reader is paramount. The publisher needs to be able to market books to the reader. And not just some books, but every book they produce. If publishers can prove to content producers that they can double their income compared to what they can make alone, then publishers can retain the services of those content producers at a 50% net royalty. To retain a 25% royalty, publishers will have to prove they can earn content producers four times as much as they could earn alone. Right now, that does not seem to be happening reliably, if one looks at ebooks alone. Making that transition will require a lot of reshaping of how publishers think.

    3) Increase royalty rates. I think this is inevitable, and hinted at it in the paragraph above. Many publishers are offering 25% net contracts for digital books right now. However, many smaller presses are already offering 50%. Some have moved to as high as 70% net. A 70% net contract isn’t as high as the 70% of gross a content producer earns when going direct to retailers, but it IS probably high enough that, if combined with excellent services and marketing, writers could be convinced that working with publishers is a good deal.

    4) Contracts need to be improved. Thanks to several well known blogs, writers are becoming increasingly aware that many publishers are offering poor contracts these days. In some cases, publishers are trying to unilaterally rewrite contracts without author consent. These practices are forcing writers away from publishers, and creating a feeling of conflict and antagonism, rather than a sense of cooperation for mutual benefit.

    5) Respect. Publishers as a whole need to recognize that the game has changed. Digital books allow content producers to much more easily go direct to consumers. The day when publishers were the gatekeeper through whom all content needed to pass is done. Content producers have options, today. A submission which is rejected will still most likely be a competitor on the marketplace soon after. In the future, the relationship between content providers and publishers will be much more of a partnership than it was in the past.

    6) Scale down operations and scale back expenses. Even with all the above changes, publishers will be operating on slimmer margins and smaller sales numbers than they were in the pre-digital world. More precisely, publishers will need to drop as much of the expense of physical infrastructure as is possible. Digital media requires little physical infrastructure. Digital communications no longer requires a central office at an expensive location.

    It’s a lot to do. And there’s no longer a lot of time. Within three years, I think, all of this will have settled out and we’ll be able to pick out the winners who survived, and the losers, who didn’t. Mike is right – this is absolutely an existential question.

    • There’s nothing wrong with your list, but I think it misses an important trick. What publishers have to do is be expert at getting to megaphones and multipliers: they need to know the web sites and communities that can market any particular book and have credibility with them. Political books aren’t going to get sold through Politico or RCP or any other site *alone*: successful publishing will ultimately entail marshaling their support along with a lot of others. Orchestrating a disparate array of assets has always been the publishers’ essential function and it still will be. But now the assets are likely to be vertical-specific, while they used to be “book”-specific.


      • Yes, agreed. I touched on it a bit with the “marketing to readers” part. Publishers don’t need to market ebooks to retailers – they just upload them. Instead, publishers need to work to make their books stand out and sell among all the other books out there.

        That’ll be a challenge, because it’s a very different sort of marketing from convincing a book chain to carry more copies of a given book. 😉  But large publishers have very deep pockets, and as you pointed out probably still have at least a year or two before things “go critical” in which they can maneuver.

        My own opinion – my guess, really! – is that publishers who thrive in the digital environment will be those who excel at getting readers to notice their books. If an author knows that by going through Publisher X they will sell many, many times more copies than they could on their own, then it makes it exceptionally worthwhile to partner with that publisher for some of their books.

        Anyway, great post, really enjoyed reading it, and have enjoyed the discussion as well.  =)

  • Pingback: Mike Shatzkin asks: what can publishers offer in digital publishing? A response.()

  • D Seattle

    Legacy publishers will survive to the extent that they can act as curators — as “a good housekeeping sign of approval” (that probably dates me) that a book is worthy. They don’t have to vouch for a book in any specific sense much less agree with its opinions — but simply that the book is in some way “serious.”

    Of course that does leave room for others to get in on the curatorial role. We might see “imprints” from major, respected opinion leaders. Why not one by Bill Clinton? or Paul Krugman? or Stewart Brand?  Stephen King? etc etc or name anyone you respect. Would such an eminence get into the nitty-gritty of editing, design, promotion, marketing etc etc? Probably not directly though their editorial judgment would be a real and key factor in the success of their “publishing company” so while figure-heads might work, I question their staying power.

    My point is that once you get rid of physical books — no responsibility to manufacture, warehouse, transport etc etc — what is a publishing company besides 
    1. the judgment that a “book” (whatever _that_ turns out to be) is worthy of being read, 
    2. editing to take a raw manuscript into a finished ebook, and 
    3. promoting/marketing.

    Legacy publishers may be able to thrive — counter-intuitively — precisely because it is so easy to “self-publish.” How do you, as a reader, separate the wheat from chaff? The curatorial function comes to the fore.

    • I’m not sure that works, D.  Readers just don’t pay that much attention to publisher. Many, many people are buying books today which are self published, with the publisher name “some company the author founded”. But readers don’t seem to be able to tell the difference, provided the book is of good quality. Publishing imprints were already so many, and so diverse, that branding on most of them is nonexistent right now.

      That’s especially true in fiction, where there are very few effective publisher brands. But it’s even true to some degree in much mass-market nonfiction. If readers can’t tell which books are “curated” and which ones are not, then the “curation” function of publishers is through.

      It will be a major challenge for large publishers to build brands effective enough to gain reader trust, if they choose to go this route.

      • We’re sorta on the same page here. Building real brands that matter would have to be vertical. General trade publishers are not really well equipped or conditioned to do that except for genres.


      • Yeah, I think so too. I was thinking Harlequin, same as you were.  😉  Baen is another publisher who’s managed to build a strong brand. Basically, in fiction – if a *publisher* has fans who tend to buy that publisher, regardless who the author is, then you know you have strong branding.

        In nonfiction I tend to see more of it in series. A great example is the “Idiot’s Guide to…” series, for instance. Very successful branding there. Also some publishers have created successful series of books in tech fields, especially programming. In the medical field where I work, I wouldn’t want to use, say, a drug guide from anyone but a trusted source. Some textbook publishers have produced powerful brands because of trust in their material.

        It might be fiction (and mass-market non-fiction) where publishers will have the greatest challenges in building successful brands.

      • As to your conclusion: exactly!


      • Dan Lubart

        When I was (much) younger, I bought any MMP that was published by Del Ray, because there was an excellent chance that if Lester thought it was worth publishing, I was going to like it.  Where is that trusted curator today?  With the massive increase in the amount of published works (if you include self-published) there is, in my opinion, a huge opportunity for branded genre curation like that.  Crowdsourcing has its uses, but I would rather find the next Del Ray to suggest my books.

      • David Sucher

        You may well be correct that publishers are unable to develpma curatorial reputation, in which case it is pretty grim for publishers, per se.

        Then again, the fact that “readers don’t pay that much attention to publishers” may be true NOW — and our discussion is about the future.

        The point I make is simply that generalist publishers have little to offer unless they stress the curatorial function. Perhaps that means they must narrow their focus (e.g. Island Press or Princeton Architectural) or personalize (use identifiable eminent individuals who do the curating). Or perhaps existing media — The New Yorker or the NYRB or some specialty publication — will emerge as the new publishers since they already have experience and expertise in curating.

        In any case, Mike has stimulated some interesting thinking.

    • David,

      I would say “necessary but not sufficient”. I’ve been coming around to the POV that the *biggest* publishing names (not every little imprint) can be a “branding” that says “quality” to a lot of people to justify a $9.99 price instead of a $2.99 price. But most publisher branding is too generic to do much more than that. In the vertical niches (even genres, like Harlequin for romance) it is different, but for general trade it is only an indication of overall quality, nothing more. And that’s not enough to make most people buy any particular book.


  • Bob Mayer

    I’ve been focusing a lot on the eBook marketplace and the indie writer– because if you look carefully at the market, your top indie writers are all going to traditional publishers, Amazon (either an imprint or Encore) or with an agency/publisher.  Why is that?
    I don’t buy into the pie getting bigger therefore my slice gets bigger argument some authors are using.  While shelf space is not a limitation any more, placement is an issue.  A much bigger one that most people admit and/or realize and I’ve just had experiences on both sides of that at PubIt which I’ll discuss tomorrow at Write It Forward.
    I’m in the curious position with Amazon where one side of their house (Imprints/Encore) doesn’t want to deal with me because they consider me a publisher, while the other side of the house (where I am) KDP doesn’t allow any paid marketing or placement, negating my ability to market myself with them.  It’s a frustrating situation.
    On top of all that, is the fact that outsourcing is a bad, bad, move for many publishers yet it’s what I see high ranking executives at many houses talking about.  And if I hear metadata mining one more time, I’m going to slam my head into the wall.

    • Chris

      About time somebody brought this stuff up, Bob.

      I’ll be keen to read your blog post tomorrow.

    • Starting at the top with your question: I think indie writers get publishers when they can because, as you well know, publishing is a lot of work that has nothing to do with the craft of writing, which many (if not most) writers would prefer to spend their time doing.


  • Pingback: Новости электронного книгоиздания » Blog Archive » Шацкин разразился прогнозом()

  • Rblanco45

    Shatzie, you have been so wrong so many times for so long about this very issue–the rate at which eBooks will replace print books–I can’t believe you have the nerve to put out such a notion. 80% in 2 years? 90% ever in our lifetimes? Not gonna happen. I don’t know why you can’t be content to say eBooks are coming and are great and are going to create change without getting into these wild claims about the timeline and extent of penetration. What we have seen now is that there is a very considerable resistance to eBooks by a very significant proportion of the reading public. They are attached to books as cultural artifacts.You talk about horses vs. cars. Do you realize there are now more horses in the world and more people riding them than in 1900? Not irrelevant–people have a long cultural history of interacting with horses and you don’t just snap your fingers and say that’s over now. People will be buying bound books and building home libraries of them 100 years from now, and it won’t be an inconsiderable activity. Another place you are fundamentally wrong is in the role played by the publisher. You tend to treat the publisher as an inessential service provider whose “middleman” role can easily be usurped. In fact the main function of the publisher is to find and create texts that people want, and then to market them to the people who want them. Your suggestion that supply-side entities who who want to push a book for their own reasons–whether they be self-publishing writers or companies–can displace publishers is to presuppose the reading public would undergo an unlikely change and stop buying books for their own reasons and start buying books that self-publishers want them to read. It also supposes that the very significant part of the publishing industry dedicated to creating demand for books can just be dispensed with and taken over by the consumer, who will presumably be self-motivated to spend hours on the net choosing between all these self-published private and corporate books. If this was going to happen it would be happening now, because there is already a tsunami of self-published titles available on the net, both digital and print, and their per-title sales are zilch. There will be an uptick in sales of these long-tail items no doubt, but the bulk of book sales will continue to be in titles that have been selected, produced and marketed by people who make it their business to know how to do that–by any other name–publishers.

    • Uh, have you been to a bookstore lately?

      The worst wrong about my predictions over the past couple of years is that they haven’t been aggressive enough. I said a year or two ago we’d have 50% ebooks on narrative text by 2015; we have them on a lot of titles now and will have that percentage across all new narrative titles after Christmas. I said at about the same time we’d lose half the bookstore shelf space by 2015 and we’ve probably lost damn near that much already, with Borders closing and B&N devoting considerably less space to books.


      • Rblanco45

        I’m in the trade actually and have been diligently trying to sell digital versions of books since 1999. I’m not saying it’s not happening. I’m just saying it’s coming a lot slower than people like you predicted and bound books are looking a lot more durable than once thought. I don’t know where you get this 50% eBooks on narrative text or what it exactly means. All I know is that our general trade sales are still 90% on the bound book side and so are those of most publishers I talk to. Down here on the front line I would say support for the bound book is firming up. I think it’s going to be a much tougher cat to kill than the eBook prophets have claimed and may retain a significant part of the market indefinitely. But to the other part of my post, I see even less evidence that unprofessionally published books by people who have no experience in book marketing is making any dent in the market.

    • To echo Mike’s comment, have you been to Amazon lately? 😉

      Go check the bestseller lists by genre. Over half of the top 100 fastest selling ebooks in pretty much every genre of fiction are self published. In some, it’s as high as 70 of the top 100.

      “If this was going to happen it would be happening now”, you said.

      What you missed is that it IS happening now.

      • In *genres* and by unit volume, not by value. It is significant, but the branded books are still selling more and more and the lost print units are apparently being more than made up by digital.

        Which would suggest that the self-published books are expanding the market, and that would confirm what a lot of people are saying about the impact of cheaper ebooks.


      • PS: Michael Tamblyn, EVP at Kobo, showed charts yesterday at our Publishers Launch Conferences event yesterday in Frankfurt that suggest that a lot more ebooks are sold between $8.99 and $14.99 than for $3.99 and under. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I hope we’ll be able to post those slides.

      • Agreed with the by value comment, of course. A $9.99 ebook brings substantially more value to the publisher than a 99 cent one, obviously – so it takes on avg a lot more self published sales to reach the same revenue sum, because the average retail price is so different. I don’t think it’s *self published* books expanding the market, though – I think it’s ebooks in general – the overall increased in ease of access probably plays a role along with price.

        I’d be interested to see that Kobo data. To be honest, I hadn’t been tracking the Kobo bestseller lists, because they represent such a small market… However, a quick glance at their bestseller lists reveals why: self published books seem to be excluded entirely from their top rankings. Unlike Amazon, where self published books are all over the place, and B&N where the same is true, I can’t even find a Smashwords book in the top ranks. There are some 99 cent to 2.99 books on Kobo bestseller lists, but they’re all from multi-author publishers (at least the ones I am seeing). In other words, they’re seeing more high dollar sales because they’re cheating and cutting the SP books out of the running in some manner.  😉  I suspect the view on Amazon and B&N is very different.

      • I really doubt that they’re “cheating” even on the bestseller lists, but the data had to do with *sales by price point*, so it was only tangentially connected to any possible “cheating” anyway.


      • Dan Lubat

        Today’s Kindle Bestseller List:

        50 books above $8.  50 books below $8.  Looks like a horse race to me.

      • Dan Lubart

        Kevin, while your point is right, your numbers are a bit high.  Kindle Bestseller list runs roughly 30-35% self-published at most, and that’s up a little bit from the summer months, maybe by 5%.  Fiction and Mystery are a few points higher.  Only Romance is likely at or just over 50% self-published, possibly as high as 60% today. 

        Regardless, that’s a lot of ‘prime real estate’ on the very important retailer besteller lists being gobbled up by self-published titles.  This is definitely not something that publishers can, or in fact are ignoring.  The problem is that there is a large segment of the market that wants cheap books and right now, self-published authors are the only ones (other than a few promos now and then) supplying them.  Perhaps this segment of buyers wouldn’t have been buying more expensive books given no option, so that would represent market expansion.  More likely, it’s a shift of roughly the same dollars towards the cheaper product.  More units, but the same dollars.  While this represents a cannibalization of brand author books, it is much smaller in terms of real dollars than the shift in the bestseller rankings would seem to indicate.

    • Lorenzo Bunello

      Interesting Rblanco 45, but, a part of not offering valid sources on the number of people using horses today (and maybe you statistically can be right) you just omit to add that we ‘all’, you included I suppose, do not use horses to travel in general any more, do you?

      • Thanks, Lorenzo. Of course, you’re right. And the notion that there is some hardcore of resistance to ebook reading is also presented as “proof by assertion”. I assume there will eventually prove to be such a hardcore (which is why I think we’ll hit resistance at 80% — or 70% or 86% or something — but I am not aware of any evidence at all that we’ve hit it yet.


      • One day I’m telling Mike he’s out to lunch, the next I’m defending him.

        Lorenzo, I may disagree with Mike about the exact timing, but the change is happening. Remember all of the people who swore that they’d never switch to DVD from VHS because DVD just didn’t offer any extra value? Where are they now.

        Where Mike and I disagree is that I think it is going to happen a lot quicker than he does. I don’t know of anyone who thinks it is going to hit the 80% of the market point within eight months except me. I’ve got a whole bunch of people who are telling me that I’m crazy.

        The problem is that the numbers that I’m seeing say that I’m right.


      • Wow, Wayne. I assume we’re talking about the same thing: the percentage of the typical narrative text book’s sale that would be digital. Hitting 80% in 8 months means by the start of summer 2012!

        Now, that’s an aggressive prediction! I won’t say you’re crazy, but I will say I’ll be stunned and amazed if you’re right.


      • I’m just following the numbers Mike. Just following the numbers. Now it is always possible that people are lying, but I’m getting these numbers from major industry bodies.

        Problem is that most people think in linear terms, and this change isn’t linear.

        1) Because the physical book model was inefficient and the ebook market is more efficient, the overal market is growing.
        2) Thus the drop in sales of the physical book market is being masked.
        3) A lot of people really, really, like physical books, and it takes a lot to convince them (I was one of those people) but once they are convinced they won’t go back.
        4) As shelf space for physical books drops, browsing for new books becomes harder.
        5) At some point the drop in sales will have an adverse impact on costs even with Print on Demand.
        6) Unless Print on Demand reaches the point where a $9.99 paperback can be printed in 5 minutes from storage (hard drive/internet) on acid free paper, leaving the store a $2.00 profit after amortizing the printing machine.
        7) The chains will get hit worst. Independent specialty stores should weather the storm due to their ability to offer a level of support that the chains and Amazon cannot offer.
        8) There will be a resurrection of the trade of “Book Binder,” which will allow writers to offer special print on demand runs with the covers stripped, and their own high tooled leather, gold embossed special editions, individually signed. People like Neil Gaiman will do well with this sort of think. 
        9) The normal author/editor/publisher (me) will go just about 100% ebook, because come the Boxing Day sales, Amazon will drop the price of the lower end Kindle to $50.00 in a pre-emptive strike to keep the competition out of the market, the same way that Apple priced the base IPad at $499.00 to kill of the competition.So we have super cheap EBook readers, an lack of places to buy physical books, a level of convenience both for reading and buying that is far beyond what you get with a physical book.

        To me this argues that the adoption curve will be exponential.

        That’s why I’m saying eight months now (another month has gone by). I could quite well be wrong, but I’m damned sure that you are wrong with your two year prediction.


      • We’ll see.

        But the publishing world also thinks I’m wrong with my two year prediction because they think it is too aggressive!

        I will ask my team to put a little tickler in for me for next June to remind me to check and see if you were right.


      • It will be amusing 🙂

  • Direct marketing is a fundamentally different discipline than what book publishers have ever done.  Not to say they can’t reinvent themselves, but it strikes me that it’s far more likely that direct publishers (like magazines) will be successful as ebook producers than that book publishers will invest sufficiently to learn direct marketing.  Given that the concentration of buyer data with Amazon is only going to accelerate as ebooks predominate, the possibility of doing direct marketing is likely to diminish.

    • More than one of the major publishers is working on direct “marketing” without direct “sales”; gathering names and customer information without necessarily controlling the transaction. It’s hard and it may not succeed, but people are attacking the problem.


  • Pingback: Publishing. Right. Wrong. Otherwise! | Wayne Borean()

  • I don’t think it will be two years. I estimated two years back in April, and then shortened my time to eighteen months. I have a writeup on some of my reasoning here.

    The problem is that when a technology shift starts that it is an accelerating curve, up until it plateaus. Each technology is different in the plateau level. Each technology is different in the acceleration curve.

    My estimate is that books are going to move at a speed that will shock people, and leave the poor suckers who invested in Blu-Ray feeling ripped off.


    • If I am reading you right. you’re saying we’ll be at 80% ebooks for narrative text in 18 months. That would surprise me, but not a lot. Most of the time I’ve been wrong on the conservative side (I thought two years ago we’d get to 50% by 2015 and we’ll be there less than a year from now.) But I live in the world of publishing where most people think I’m too aggressive even when I think I’m being conservative. I could be affected by that.

      • Wayne Borean

        Um, no. Eighteen months from April 2011. Of course that assumes that I’m making the right assumptions. However when you lay it out, that is my current date, my previous date, and your current date, we end up with the following dates:

        April 2013
        October 2013
        April 2014

        We aren’t that far apart. 

        Where I think a big part of our difference of interpretation comes from is how we see certain basics playing out due to Industrial Economics and price systems.

        My personal belief is that the sales vs price chart is logarithmic. What I mean by this is that if a vendor drops a price on a good that the resultant sales increase is logarithmic. Since I’m working on about four hours sleep I’m going to cheat and use a simpler formula that I can handle before I end up face down on the keyboard.

        Assume that we have a book priced at $10.00 (I know, usually it would be $9.99, but let’s take $10.00 because the math is easier). According to rough, seat of the pants calculations, assuming that all else is equal, sales should increase approximately by the following factors if you drop prices by the following factors (and boy does that look confused).


        Sales Increase



















        Assume that I’m awake. And ignore the bottom four rows, since they don’t fit into Amazon’s 70% Royalty. When you lower prices, sales increase. We are all aware of this, we see it every Boxing Day.

        With physical goods, there is a cost per item which limits the actions that can be take on pricing. With EGoods like digital music (FYI, in addition to be a registered Canadian Publisher I also own an Independent Recording Studio) and Digital Books, once you have covered your original costs, everything from that point on is profit, with the exception of server and bandwidth costs.

        Assume further that you deal with Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, ITunes, or anyone else like this, and that they take care of those costs through their cut of the royalty. Also assume that they are honest. They may not be, but if they are not, they can’t been caught cheating yet. Quite probably they are honest. It would make better business sense for them to be honest.

        The numbers are reasonably good for the higher prices. As we get into the lower prices, they are suspicious. As I said they should be logarithmic, and I used a half baked system hacked together. The numbers are low.

        I used Amazon so I could list AMAZON, and show the numbers in who;



        PS: Apologies if this wanders, I’m about to fall over 🙂

  • Pingback: Will book publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook publishers? | The Passive Voice()

  • Interesting insights on the digital e-book market. I made the switch to an ebook reader in the spring but it was not an easy shift. I’m the type of person who usually keeps two books on the go at once, normally a fiction book and an academic book.

    I realized that an e-reader makes a lot of sense for fiction titles. I blow through them quickly and an e-reader is light, easy to cart around, and perfect for reading in bed with.

    My academic books are used to keep up to date on issues and continued learning, they are essentially tools for my to highlight, scribble notes in the margins etc so I continue to buy the physical book for these purposes.

    It’s interesting to see that I’m part of a much larger movement within the publishing consumer market.

    Michael Girard,
    Community Engagement, Radian6

    • Ebooks are a near ideal solution if you want to “just read” and less ideal if you want to do anything else. College texts haven’t made it successfully to ebooks yet, partly because students want to write in them.

      So you’re part of the crowd in more ways than one.


  • Pingback: Links and links (weekly) | Leonieke.Net()

  • Pingback: Kobo’s new deals propel them into the top tier of global ebook competitors – The Shatzkin Files()

  • Pingback: Is an 80% ebook world for straight text really in sight? – The Shatzkin Files()

  • Pingback: Will e-books take over 80% of narrative text sales? | Ebooks on Crack()

  • Pingback: New So what’s the curve to a hybrid print – e-book future – Stephen's Lighthouse()

  • Pingback: The Shared Monopoly of Big Publishing | The Passive Voice()

  • Pingback: Will book publishers be able to maintain primacy as ebook … | AdShopEZ – Buy Online Books()