ebooks – Toward a Tipping Point?

child-wirth-ebookThe ebook continues on a roll.  March 8-14 was national Read an e-Book week and by all accounts was well received.  As if to underscore the continued success of the electronic reading format, the American Association of Publishers announced that e-books sales were up 68.4 percent for 2008.  This amid a mostly gloomy assessment of down publisher sales. Smashwords, a blog focused on ebooks, characterizedd the  growing popularity of the ebook format thus:

For the five years between 2002 and 2007 (Click herefor data, opens a PDF), overall trade book sales averaged an annual increase of 2.5% (lower than inflation, which means unit sales probably decreased), while ebooks for the same period turned in a 55.7% average annualized increase.

As any numbers guy or gal will tell you, it’s easy to show great sales growth when you’re growing off of a small base. But when sales show sequential acceleration off of sequentially increasing bases (meaning, you grow faster as you grow larger), then something really interesting is taking place.

If you extrapolate the 70% growth for five more years (and I would argue 70% is a relatively conservative number), then ebooks rise to $1.6 billion, and assuming a 2% growth rate of the overall trade book sales to $26.7 billion (generous), ebooks would then represent a respectable 6% of sales.

stanzaNot quite a tipping yet, but approaching one.  Other news on the ebook front underscored the continuing interest by authors and publishers in exploring the ebook domain.

  • Novelist Danielle Steel released 71 of her works, including the new One Day at a Time, as ebookson Amazon.com and The eBook Store by Sony. This is the first time Steel’s books, which are published by the Random House division of Bantam Dell, have been made available in digital format.
  • In November, Random House announced it would be making 8,000 to 15,000 additional books from its list  available in digital form.
  • Apple’s popular iPhone, now in use by nearly 20 million people, is also creating a a new market for e-books with free applications like Stanza, an e-book reader for the iPhone, making it easier to read books on the go. Users download the app for free directly from their phones. The popularity of the application is told by the nearly one million downloads so far. 
  • The Canadian bookselling chain Indigo has launched a service called Shortcoversto market e-books to smartphones and computers.  The firm will initially offer about 50,000 titles, priced from $4.99 to $19.99 (US$4.02 to US$16.11), and chapters will be available for 99 cents (80 US cents) each.  Some 200,000 sample chapters will be available for free.  Shortcovers will offer recommendations to users based on their reading habits and is creating a forum where self-published and unpublished writers can submit a chapter from a novel, a short story or an article, and list them for free, with ads or for 99 cents without ads.

The ebook continues to march steadily toward mainstream acceptance despite ebook reader war, pricing confusinos and a still modest inventory of titles.  While it’s still difficult to predict exactly what an ebook world will look like, it does seem more certain that we are heading toward one.



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