Look for platform wars to lead to the shutting down of more bricks-and-mortar bookstores; for the amount of shelf space in bricks-and-mortar stores given over to used books and nonbook items to grow; for some technical platforms to exit the business (no, I won’t say which ones); for a surge in online discovery services for books; and for publishers to feel for the next several years that they are not in control of their own industry.
So many things wrong here. I’ll deal with them one by one.
1) Enhanced EBooks
Imagine video that shows how to fix a leaky faucet or solve complex math problems in statistics; audio that pronounces foreign language words as you read them, and assessment that lets you check what you remember and comprehend what you just read. These interactive features and more are being developed now and will be on the market in a matter of weeks, not months.
Websites that do this pretty much already exist. Howcast has had a version up since 2008, EHow since even earlier. Why would ANYONE buy an ebook version of the web, unless it was truly valuable and niche orientated? I’ve more sympathy with the testing features, but suspect that such a set of tools would be better delivered over a subscription website rather than an ebook.
Because most developers are developing e-reader software that will work on multiple other devices (Kindle also works on the iPad, iPhone, and computers, for example), consumers will care less about the device and more about the user experience of the e-reader software, portability of titles from one device to another, and access to a full catalog of titles.
My fear about this is that as devices go multi-media, reading faces great competition from other media, something I’m fairly sure is detrimental to the medium.
This has caused confusion among many consumers who simply think every e-book should be $9.99 or less. But the majority of titles offered on Amazon are priced above $9.99, especially those with unique interactive features. For professional and technical publishers like McGraw-Hill, our e-books cannot stand the low, mass market pricing some consumers think should be applied to every e-book. Our costs are invested in extensive product and editorial development of sophisticated and technical content; the cost of paper, printing, and binding are a fraction of the real expense. And for some very specific and technical subject areas, our markets are much smaller. We simply couldn’t afford to publish the work if it must be priced at the everyday low, low price of $9.99.
This confuses a publishers business model with the market. The Market has changed radically and many people can now publish cheaply. This will impact on existing business models. Believing that because your costs are high the market should pay you more is a recipe for disaster.
4) Contextual Upsell
E-books allow publishers to interact with their customers in new ways. Imagine customers who are trying to learn statistics and get stuck on a particular formula. They ask friends but no one can explain it well. They’re stuck.
They click a help button, which points them to the publisher site where they can download relevant tutorials about specific formulas for $2.99.
I’ve some respect for this kind of thinking, especially if it is deployed properly. I fear many publishers will not get to grips with it though!
5) Publishers Importance
Despite the hype around self-publishing via the web, publishing houses will play an even greater role in an e-book world. Commodity content is everywhere (and largely free), so high-quality vetted, edited content — which takes a staff of experts — will be worth a premium.
The problem with this is that it DOESN’T require a staff of experts. It requires AN EXPERT with access to the web and MAYBE an editor. No publisher need interfere. And increasingly, they probably won’t.