How many years until 50% e-book sales?

News, trends, and the future of publishing

How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby Nathan Bransford » 11 Mar 2010, 10:01

Today I came across an interesting post that predicts that e-books will catch on but very slowly and won't comprise 50% of sales for 20 years. People in the comments section note that digital sales still only comprise 30% of the music market.

If I had to guess before reading the post and comments I would have said something in the 5-10 range, but we're already 10 years into the digital music revolution and they're still not at 50% so what do I know? A conservative projection may well be the right one, especially since unlike getting a cellphone, most people don't feel a real sense of urgency about switching over to e-books.

Anyone have guesses?
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby charlotte49ers » 11 Mar 2010, 10:36

I would have thought digital music would be at the 50% marker already, so knowing that changes my opinion.

If music hasn't done it yet, I bet it will be 15+ for books, maybe even the 20+ like the article suggests. There is no nostalgia for CDs or tapes or whatever as the avenue for getting your music, but people still aren't buying completely into digital music. But there is something to holding a book in your hands, so I can see that impacting e-book sales even more so than music's.

:-)
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby Bryan Russell/Ink » 11 Mar 2010, 11:22

I think it's going to be slow-ish. If it's not there in music... it's going to be even longer in books. The advantages are less numerous and less clear for digital books than for digital music. So many people are still attached to paper books. And from my bookstore days, I know tons and tons of avid readers who struggle to find the money for $2.00 used books, so expensive ereaders and ebooks... it's just not going to happen. I mean, even cellphones. Tons of people have cellphones. But many people still don't, too. I don't. Probably going to keep it that way, too. You ever seen the movie Phonebooth? There's an opening that's interesting, talking about the mass of cellphone users... but that millions and millions and millions of calls are still put through on payphones. I think books are somewhat similar.

And the bulk of readers still only read a book or two a year. They're not going to buy ereaders, obviously, as the cost/benefit ratio would be ludicrous for them (unless they're rich and gadget happy). That means it would have to be a multipurpose iPad-ish device (or cellphones, which many don't like reading on) doing the work. How long before such a thing is ubiquitous? I think that'll be slow-ish, too. I really don't think there's a product out there now that has the right cost balanced against the right functionality to really do the trick. Right now these things mostly overlap with computers and cellphones and iPods. When they come out with a little touchscreen computer that can fully replace all these other devices... that's when a big change might happen (and even then there's going to be a clash and overlap, as the small size of such a portable device will never mesh that well with the large size of screens and keyboards necessary for comfort in long-term use - though providing a hookup option for keyboards and screens might do the trick there). But I'm no tech guy and have no idea when something like that might drop on the market and subsequently affect the publishing world.

I think we'll see a growing market for ebooks, but we'll see a lot of both types... often from the same customers. I'm seeing lots of people adopting ereaders and saying they'll never go back. But I'm also seeing a fair number of people getting ereaders, buying a bunch of books... but a few months down the road they're reading mostly paper books again. The gadget joy wears off for some. And I see lots of people happily buying lots of both. I think we're going to see a variety of formats, including paper, and people will kind of slot in according to their own personal preference. Certainly ebooks will be growing... but I don't think it's going to be overwhelming anytime soon. I mean, I've still only ever seen one actual ereader in my life. That's a long way to go yet for market majority.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby Nathan Bransford » 11 Mar 2010, 13:05

I think you may be right. What's interesting with the music comparison though, is that even if digital sales haven't passed 50% they still contributed to the demise of Tower Records, Virgin Records, etc. Some of that was due to competition with WalMart and Amazon, but even a 10-20% shift was enough to fundamentally alter the way we acquire our music. So even if e-books take a while to fully catch on I think we're going to be feeling their impact quite a bit sooner than the 50% point.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby charlotte49ers » 11 Mar 2010, 13:24

I didn't think about that, though I'm surprised the Amazon's of the world haven't already drastically altered physical book locations more than they have. You've Got Mail broke my heart when she had to close her little children's book store. :(

I know Mom and Pop stores have been hurt already just from the giant book sellers. Add in e-books, and I fear they will cease to exist all together. As sad as it makes me, it's still hard for me to pay $5+ more for a book when I know I can just order it and save a little, especially in this economy. I'm such a hypocrite.

I love the accessibility technology offers, but it makes me sad to see what it takes away at the same time. If I could have air conditioning, I'd be all about living on the prairie a la Laura Ingalls...until I couldn't blow dry my hair, that is.

That was such a giant ramble, sorry. :D
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby Bryan Russell/Ink » 11 Mar 2010, 16:05

I agree, Nathan. But I also think the trick will be with the speed of transition. How fast will things change? The problem with the music industry was that it hit that impact point very quickly, and it sort of came out of the blue. Not so much with books. I think publishing has a little more time to adjust and make plans for different variables that arise. And I think we see that with all the price control squabbles going on now. To me that's all about that 3% market share. Control pricing now, and you'll perhaps aggravate some customers. But it's only a percentage of that 3%. Take a few losses on sales now and swallow them. Not so bad. Because if they wait it'll be very hard to try and change price perception when ebooks are 30 or 40 or 50 percent of the market. That's a lot more customers to aggravate, customers who might fight back (or pirate). People use that argument now... but I think the publishers are totally willing to alienate that small percentage right now to gain stability and control the perception of worth. The basic fact is, at least to me, that the vast majority of future ebook readers are not ebook readers right now. They haven't discovered them... or haven't been born yet. So if the publishers can control the perception of worth, the great bulk of future ebook readers will come to these specific valuations as a place of entry. It'll be all they know. And I really think, for the publishers, it's those future ebook readers that are important, that will shape the nature of the industry. And they're willing, in a sense, to sacrifice the current readers. They've caught a minnow right now. Should they eat that minnow... or stick it on a hook and go fishing for something much bigger? I think they want to go fishing.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby casnow » 13 Mar 2010, 11:00

Although in defense of music taking more than a decade, remember that mp3's started to take off when there was still only 25% of the US population with a computer and less than 10% with an internet connection.
However, I do think eBooks will take a long time to catch on. I own an eReader, and I only buy about 35% of my books in digital form.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby a_r_williams » 13 Mar 2010, 14:23

That's good news.

However, it does make me curious. As the percentage of readers switch from paper books to e-Books that will have an effect on how many paper books are sold. Less people buying paper books should equal smaller print runs per title. Although, the creation of the book is about 10% of a title's cost, the lower print runs may lead to more expensive printing of each title. Could that lead to more people making the switch to e-Books which would then result in even smaller print runs?
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby JustineDell » 13 Mar 2010, 14:37

I'm one of those people who can't live without holding an actual book in their hands. Sure, I can read an e-book every once in while, but it's not what I prefer. I know I'm not the only person out there like that. However, with that being said, e-book sales have skyrocketed lately. And as more publishers move to e-book format, I think the quickness of the change will surprise most of you. I'm going to be bold and say it will be less than 20 years. I think it will be less than 10. Then again, it may just be my genre. It's astounding to me how many romance publishers ONLY publish in e-book format. That's the trend, and I think it will move forward, and fast.

Sure, there will be people out there, like me, who prefer the book. But I'm afraid those people with get fewer selections as the times passes. Which big author said recently that they would be only publishing in e-book format from now on? Stephen King? I'm not sure - but that alone goes to show you how things can abruptly change.

That's my amateur two cents ;-)

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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby Steppe » 15 Mar 2010, 15:22

Hi N.


I am going with a rock solid 15 years right in between the article and your guess.
My reasoning is based on my computer experience.
When I got on line I thought everyone was on computers and I was a stone age man
desperate to catch up and not feel that out of touch.

That was 1995.

I had a Pentium 90 MHz that cost 5000$ and was the top of the line.
The telephone modem was 5600 then 14,700 and finally 56,000
for a ten fold order of magnitude increase from 1995-1998

In 1998 I bought the best computer available at 500 MHz
and cable was now available at 300,000 megabytes per second

From 1995-2010 the internet went from 2,000,000 to one billion users.

A three orders of magnitude jump

1,000,000
10,000,000
100,000,000
1,000,000,000

I used to order goods and services online and the retailers practically
laughed in your face as if saying "Listen bubba we only do this so we can
say we do to our investors. You want some real merchandise then don't
bother looking on a silly computer thingy; you get your butt down to the store or
crack a catalogue open like every other civilized person. "YOU SAVVY... GEEK-BOY."
I'm talking big players like JC Penny were like that in 2000.


I think the break point is when schools insist on electronic text books.

That's an idea you heard here first from me but trust me there are some sharks
in the book business that know what that means. That's definitely the break point.
I know business. Its a serious herd mentality. Predict the herds path and get there
first you grab the good stuff-big money and let the cows and sheep graze on the scrub grass.

Eventually hard cover books shall go back to what they were meant to be.
Sturdy leather bound high quality cloth spines with non-acidic papers designed to
last 200 years and your average Joe shall once again pride himself on owning
his favorite 10-50-250 books that cost him a hefty 50,000 dollars for 270 books.

He'll look at his favorite books and know passages by heart and say to his friends.
You touch one of my books and I'll kill you and you first born child... YOU COPY INFIDEL?

I have seen the future; and it is good.

I wrote a book so ahead of its time I knew it wouldn't
sell so I turned my Hollywood friends on to it and they
know that's how I operate. If you can steal the idea or adapt it "God Bless"
you and your ancestors and descendants unto ten thousand generations.

Plus I get to watch it on TV. Adapted to a different stage and simpler explanations but "Alive".
Not stillborn sitting on my laptop as just another quirky idea that tickles me pink and bores
anyone I try to pay to read it.
Alas I write for the high and as a form of conversation with the future and the so called "universe" ie: Ship of Light.
l

That's my guess-bid. Schools go e-book the paperback is finished. The 8inch trade to.
Arthur
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby a_r_williams » 16 Mar 2010, 12:21

This is talked about in The Shatzkin Files which includes a link to the Hachette Podcast
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby plainlabelbooks » 09 Apr 2010, 11:40

I own Plain label Books with 850+ free e-books books on Google and 300 pay on Amazon Kindle. Google will soon be selling my e-books as well. The reader numbers are rising fast. Most of my products are unknown authors, public domain with a few of my own authorship. I have found that the magic price for e-books is 99 cents, and then folks will buy almost anything, even completely unheard-of works by unknown authors. I suggest authors first sell at this price and then increase the price as readers develop and reviews (hopefully good ones) come in.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby marilyn peake » 10 Apr 2010, 00:17

Interesting discussion. I agree with the article describing the growth of eBook publication as an evolution rather than a revolution, and I feel there are too many variables for me to guess how many years it might take for eBooks to comprise 50% or more of the book market. Like Ink said, many people only read a book or two per year, and those people are unlikely to buy an expensive e-reading device. When video games came into vogue, the economy was booming, lots of people, including teenagers, had money to spend; and video game systems were made like tanks - they could be dropped or banged around, and they still worked. Right now, the economy’s struggling. Many people are trying to figure out how to pay their bills, so e-reading gadgets aren’t going to be on the top of their list of things to buy. In addition to that, e-reading devices aren’t ideal for young children – one of the age groups given multiple video game systems – because the devices are fragile, the screens can get scratched, and touch screens become easily smudged. I personally love eBooks. My own books are available on the Kindle and Nook, and will soon be available in the iBookstore for the iPad. That makes me happy. However, as a consumer, I rarely buy first generation gadgets because the second generation usually has the initial flaws resolved. I recently received a Kindle as a gift, and I’m going to use that for a while before purchasing another e-reader.

Apple has alienated many potential iPad customers because of its aggressive DRM policy, and is now in a feud with Adobe. Adobe has filed their complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/09/adobe-go-screw-yourself-apple-2 . Here’s an interesting article entitled “What a Bad Week It’s Been for Apple’s Adversaries”: http://www.pcworld.com/article/193921/what_a_bad_week_its_been_for_apples_adversaries.html . Right now, competing companies are quickly buying up digital technology, jostling to control more patents and to come up with the next big thing in e-reading devices. My guess is that many people interested in purchasing an e-reader will buy only one device, then hold tight before buying another one, waiting to see what might come along a few years down the road and which devices will completely disappear from the market.

While all this is going on, paperbacks and hardcovers are cheaper than ever before, with big-chain brick and mortar bookstores offering coupons and slapping 30% to 50% off stickers on piles of recently published books, and Amazon is selling paperbacks and hardcovers at discounted prices every day.

All these factors suggest to me that there will be many years in which eBook technology is further developed, turf wars are waged between competing companies, new companies rise up and some old ones falter, new laws are enacted for the digital age, and the way in which Internet information is shared and accessed through e-reading devices goes through many changes.
Marilyn Peake

Novels: THE FISHERMAN’S SON TRILOGY and GODS IN THE MACHINE. Numerous short stories. Contributor to BOOK: THE SEQUEL. Editor of several additional books. Awards include Silver Award, 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards.
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Re: How many years until 50% e-book sales?

Postby A.M.Kuska » 11 Apr 2010, 11:05

If I had a kindle when I was in college, I might have a criminal justice degree right now. I quit, as a straight A student, because I could not lug the books around. 3 back to back classes, all requiring a textbook the size of a Gutenberg Bible. Each class was in some obscure portion of the campus that required stairs/hills and everything else you can imagine.
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