On The Verge: eBooks No Longer A Passing Fancy

With almost $1 billion in sales, eBooks are here to stay whether book lovers (of the physical kind) like it or not. Google’s announcement Monday that it’s now a viable eBook contender only adds to the overall sense that the channels for eBooks are growing. Of particular interest is the 15 million books secured through Google’s book-scanning project. Of those 15 million, 2.8 million fall in the public domain and will be offered as free downloads via the new Google eBooks. Access to more recent titles and other books out of the public domain are covered under agreements with a wide groups of publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin.

A Service, Not a Device

Unlike other eBook heavyweights—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple—Google enters the arena strictly as a service. While readers can download an Android-based app, and one is planned for the Apple platform, Google made it clear that its goal is to sell books not devices. Google’s position as a service creates the opportunity for it to be device-agnostic, a potential benefit if the device market continues to grow.

For example, Amazon has increased accessibility to its eBooks across multiple operating systems and devices through system-specific apps. However, its proprietary system makes the Kindle incompatible with books purchased from competing vendors with other DRM controls in place. The same holds true in reverse for other device readers who want to buy from Amazon. This closed system potentially limits Amazon’s reach, but since device competition is still limited to a few key vendors, the push to open the system is small.

Owners of the Sony Reader and the Nook from Barnes & Noble, which don’t use a proprietary DRM, will be able to download purchased books to their devices. Google stands to gain traction through a fairly open system that offers functionality not available on other devices, including access to indie bookstores and traditional favorite, Powell’s Books. In this instance, Google has cast a wide net that offers the potential to appeal to readers that would rather not support closed systems.

eBooks: A Growing Market

Last November, Forrester released its five-year projections for the eBook market, and the numbers indicate a digital strategy is no longer optional for publishers, or authors for that matter. In 2010, Forrester believes eBook sales will hit $966 million. That number is expected to triple by 2015 with sales reaching almost $3 billion. Clearly eBooks can no longer be defined as a niche strategy, so what does it mean going forward?

Many of us still get the majority of our books from expected sources like the library and friends without spending a cent. So it probably isn’t a surprise that only 7 percent of book purchases are of the electronic variety. But this 7 percent is a dedicated bunch. By far they buy and read the most books out of potential book buyers. This number is expected to go up as ease-of-access and usability (e.g., the addition of color, more robust searching, etc.) improve.

Sink or Swim: An Industry on the Verge

The publishing industry isn’t the first to have it’s model turned inside out. Music and most recently, television and movies have watched digital platforms match, if not overturn, traditional channels. Publishers have a choice, and if recent behavior is any indication, they’re dragging their feet while trying to wring as much money as possible out of the existing system.

To date, publishers have resisted the argument that eBooks should be significantly less than their print counterparts. The other area that remains a point of contention are the end-user agreements (EULA). Amazon, for instance, has a EULA that grants you a license to the book, not ownership of the book. Even as access to eBooks increases through vendors like Google, many sticky issues remain.

For instance, many DVDs now come with digital copies, but there’s pushback to packaging an eBook with a physical book. Publishers fear doing so will cut down on overall sales as dedicated e-readers tend to buy eBooks for instant gratification then circle back to get the physical book at a later date, resulting in two separate sales. There’s also the question of dedicated e-readers (e.g., Kindle) versus multi-purpose devices (e.g., iPad). Each device type offers pros and cons over the other, but it remains to be seen which option will appeal to the widest audience. Clearly the eBook industry is still in its infancy with many challenges yet to come, but including eBooks in your future content strategy seems like common sense instead of science fiction.

About Britt Raybould

Britt Raybould has a passion for telling stories and she specializes in helping companies figure out how to tell their own stories. Through her firm, Write Bold, she shows companies how storytelling can define them, both to their customers and within their industry. When she remembers to, Britt blogs on her personal sites at bold-words.com and brittraybould.com. You can find Britt on Twitter @britter.

Twitter: britter

3 Responses to On The Verge: eBooks No Longer A Passing Fancy

  1. @catango says:

    Ah, so good to hear! I got a Sony e-reader a couple years ago, and if you graphed out my budget over the past two years, the amount that I've spent on books has at least tripled due to e-books. It's much easier now…when I read a review online, I can immediately purchase it, rather than file the idea away as a mental note for the next time I'm in a bookstore. And as busy as life is these days, my leisurely trips to the bookstore are now few and far between.

    Publishers are likely thrilled that my spend has increased due to the new technology, and I actually don't need any discount to get me to purchase an ebook over a physical copy.

    • @britter says:

      I fall in the same category. Since I got my Kindle, I've bought many books, usually on the spur of the moment because it's so convenient. I sometimes hesitate if I think I may want a book in hard copy instead of digital. I haven't quite decided that it's worth owning to versions of the same book.

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