Over the last year, several research groups has argued that the biggest gains in eBook market penetration are behind us. They point to the 'wall-of-resistance' that consumers are claiming -- meaning, they intend to keep on buying and carrying physical books and magazines into the distant future. While there will always be an analog market for books, there are several developments that can shrink it dramatically.
1. Device distribution -- Tablets are the hottest consumer electronic development since the television. From Apple to Samsung to Amazon, there is a ferocious competition for the consumer. This likely will drive down the costs so much, that most people in a few years will own a device that has the eReader embedded into it like email, the web, etc. Many of the readers of 50 Shades Of Grey, consumed the book on their smart phones while shopping, running the kids around or taking a short break. This cohort will likely never go back to the old way of doing things, realizing what a luxury it is to have a book with them where ever they go. Combine that with the growth of Kindle, Nook and Kobo, and you'll have an installed base of users that likely reach 80% penetration in just a few years.
2. Video -- Consumers claim they can't live without their physical books, commenting on their feel or even their smell (seriously!). What they are really saying is that there are added benefits to books they aren't getting with eBooks, such as no need for power, ability to share with others and easy note taking. While video embedded into eBooks isn't quite ready for prime time, in a tabletized world, it will be easy peezy soon. With ubiquitous WiFi connectivity, the videos can launch from the eBook, meaning that the file size won't bloat. If there's one thing we've grown to love in our You-Tube centric culture, it's demonstrative video. When eBooks offer cinematic content, even for fiction (see this book trailer by one of our authors), it will make old fashioned books seem...old fashioned.
3. Shipping and Pricing Issues -- The recent DOJ settlement for 'price fixing' with publishers means that there will be a big gap between the price points of physical and eBooks. Combine this with shrinking shelf space and rising shipping costs, and eBooks will have a real appeal to the value conscious buyer. This will be even more profound as tablet/smart phone distribution puts an eReader in every pocket or brief case. There's one other scenario most haven't thought of: Carbon taxes. In the EPA's view, paper (books, magazine and documents) produce an abhorent level of carbon emissions and should there ever the regulations created to tax it, the price of books could again skyrocket because from production to distribution to disposal, there's a giant footprint associated with physical books.
4. Changes In FAA Regulations -- There's widespread speculation that the FAA will lift restrictions on certain electronic devices (such as tablets, eReaders, etc.) that wipe out the reason to carry a physical book, newspaper or magazine while you travel. Think about the time you spend after boarding, prior to reaching 10,000 feet and the descent of the flight. Those are eReader blockout times that are going to eventually be lifted. BTW: While I can 'sort of' understand the FAA's argument about cellular interference, the idea that everything must be turned off is simply ludicrous.
What does all this mean? I believe in the near future, authors will be able to build a sufficient business with only digital product (eBook or Print On Demand). This is exciting because it makes traditional publishers less of a requirement for writing to become a pays-the-bills opportunity. Furthermore, eBooks can be updated easily, eliminating the concept of out-of-date product. That's why we are making a bet at Net Minds that the future of publishing is digital, social and for everyone involved more profitable.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays