Will Book Publishers Be Able To Maintain Primacy As Ebook Publishers?

This post, by Mike Shatzkin, originally appeared on his The Shatzkin Files blog on The Idea Logical Company site on 10/9/11.

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?


Read the rest of the post on The Shatzkin Files.

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