Publishing veteran Mike Shatzkin talks about where we are in the disruption of traditional publishing:
As ebook sales in the US now appear to have reached the 20% of revenue threshold at some publishers already (so it is there or will be for everybody very soon), there are some things we can say we know about the shape of the future, but some very important other things that we don’t know yet.
We know that most people will adjust pretty readily to reading straight text narrative books on a screen rather than paper.
We know that parents will hand their iPad, iPhone, or Nook Color device to a kid so that they can enjoy children’s books on the device.
We don’t know whether adult illustrated book content will be equally well accepted by book consumers on devices, even though there are more and more devices capable of displaying pretty much what publishers deliver on a printed page.
We don’t know what parents will pay for a brief illustrated children’s book delivered for a device, but it appears it might be much less than they’re willing to pay for paper.
We know that consumers will pay paperback prices and more for plain vanilla ebooks, or “verbatim” ebooks.
. . . .
We know that ebook uptake, as measured in sales or their percentage of publishers’ revenues, has doubled or more than doubled every year since 2007.
We know that rate of growth is mathematically prevented from continuing for even three more years (because it would put ebooks at 160% of publishers’ revenues if it did!)
We know from announcements about new devices and a recent Harris poll predicting increased device purchasing that there are no expectations for a slowdown in ebook adoption anytime soon.
We don’t know if we’re going to find a barrier of resistance, or perhaps we should call it the barrier of “paper-insistence”, at some sales level over the next two years (at the end of which ebooks would be 80% of publishers’ revenues at the growth rates we’ve seen over the past four years).
. . . .
We don’t know what the loss of brick store merchandising will mean to the ability of publishers and authors to introduce new talent to readers, or even just to introduce a new work by established talent.
We don’t know if improved book discovery and merchandising is amenable to the application of “scale” by publishers outside of vertical niches, be they topics or genres.
We know that agents and authors will accept an ebook royalty of 25% of net receipts in today’s environment, where 70% or more of the sales are still made in print.
We don’t know if the threat of the alternative publishing options will force that royalty rate up if sales fall below 50% print or 30% print.
We don’t know if sales falling below 50% print or 30% print is several years away or much less.
. . . .
We know that content-creating brands that are not book publishers are using the relative ease of publication of ebooks to deliver their own content to the ebook marketplace.
We don’t know if book publishers will develop an ebook publishing expertise that will make them able to persuade those brands in time to go through them, the way they have in the print book world, rather than disintermediating them.