In a previous post, I mentioned Michael Hyatt’s article about why ebook sales will increase at a slower rate than digital music sales did. But there is a reason why they might increase faster. There’s no question that an mp3 has greater functionality and convenience than a CD. However, when you buy a CD, you’re not choosing between the two; either way, you get the digital file. You’re simply deciding whether you also want a physical copy. However, when you’re deciding between buying an ebook or a hardcover, you’re choosing to not get one of the formats. Unless you pay twice.
One blogger addresses this issue. He talks about buying a hardcover to support the publishing industry and the frustration of having to pay almost the same amount again to be able to have the book on his ereader. But since, unlike music CDs, digital content isn’t inherently available in physical books, he suggests publishers follow the model of the film industry. Blu-ray discs are now commonly packaged together with DVDs. The price point of these is higher than the Blu-ray alone, but is cheaper than buying each format separately. He suggests releasing hardcover/ebook “combo packs” that are $5 more than the hardcover alone.
For a publisher, this would be a good way to increase hardcover sales (and paperback, as well, if the combo deal is made available in this format). And it could be done using Enthrill Entertainment‘s new ebook cards that I talked about in my last post. They could be packaged with some copies of hardcovers. Those who simply want an ebook can get that, those who only want hardcover can get that, but those, like me, who would want both, now wouldn’t have to pay twice the price for one book. I hope this is the path publishers choose to take.
In my last post, I asked what the relationship will be between ebooks and physical bookstores? Calgary’s Enthrill Entertainment may have the answer. They will be selling physical e-books in some brick-and-mortar stores throughout Canada. The personalized attention, customer service, and sense of community at many of these stores is something online bookstores can’t match. This new service allows customers to get this experience plus the ease and versatility of an e-book.
But how much of the convenience of e-books is the fact that you can buy them anywhere? Having to drive to a bookstore and wait in line for a book you want to read now and can get in a matter of minutes with a credit card may not be a compromise everyone is willing to make. Having said that, I enjoy going to bookstores and find this idea intriguing. To be able to physically browse through a selection is one of the best parts of book shopping. And if these are the same price as they are online, I think many people will prefer this method of buying ebooks. They also allow ebooks to be given as gifts. I, for one, can’t wait!
In the US, national bookstore chain Borders recently declared bankruptcy. Barnes and Noble is also in serious financial trouble, with several store closings and layoffs. In Canada, McNally Robinson faced a similar crisis and blamed it on the increased competition from ebooks. So the question is, are ebooks the end of physical bookstores?
Phyllis Lamken, owner of Dark Horse Books in Idaho, doesn’t think so. She believes bookstores serve a vital purpose and provide a sense of community that online retailers can’t compete with. She also believes that the forecasted success of ebooks is largely exaggerated, saying ebooks will never be more than 20 percent of book sales. In fact, she actually argues that ebook sales will drive physical book sales by serving as a marketing technique.
This is an interesting perspective but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Although I certainly hope brick-and-mortar bookstores are always around, it seems unrealistic to think they’ll never increase past 20 percent of the market share. Still relatively new, they are already over 8 percent of overall book sales in the U.S., which has more than doubled since the previous year. Many people make the comparison between digital books and digital music. Music downloads make up almost half of all music sales, as I mentioned in a previous post.
Although Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers would disagree with the comparison. He believes ebook sales will rise at a slower rate than digital music sales. One of the reasons for this, he argues, is that people are more attached to physical books, and the tactile elements of reading are an inherent part of its enjoyment. But he does acknowledge that the book industry is going through a “digital transformation”.
And this, I think, is the real question: what will be the nature of the new relationship between ebooks and physical bookstores? I guess we will see.
Ebook sales on Amazon recently surpassed both hardcover and paperback sales combined. Many people see this as signaling the end of print books. But bloggers Christopher Hopper and Joanna Penn argue that physical books will survive – but only as collectors’ items. Hopper makes the comparison between print books and vinyl records. Vinyl is no longer a mass marketed produtc but instead appeals to a smaller niche audience of collectors. In fact, Hopper admits to not actually listening to the vinyl records he owns. He also has digital versions of his vinyl albums and listens to the music in this format mostly, on his Ipod or computer. But he still goes out and buys certain vinyl because of their collectibility.
Similarly, Penn talks about the future of print books as pricey, limited-edition, physical works of art. I think she gets it right when she makes a distinction between what she calls “consumable” books – i.e. books that are only read once and can be tossed – and the books that are held on to and revisted. The former mostly refers to mass market paperbacks and the purpose of these is to inexpensively convey the content of the book. If ebooks can do this mass market paperbacks will likely become obsolete once ereaders become more affordable and widespread.
I don’t however believe that print books will remain exclusively as collectors’ items and not be available at general bookstores, at least not for many years. Going back to the music industry analogy, if ebooks do follow the trend of digital music, it will be a while before they become dominant in outlets beyond Amazon. Ten years after the introduction of the Ipod, digital music still makes up less than half of overall music sales. Physical books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.