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The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books?

21 December 2017

From Wired:

In 2007, A small team of Amazon employees had been working for a few years on a new ebook reader project they’d eventually call the Kindle. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was eager to finish and sell the thing; he was certain Apple or Google was working on something similar, and didn’t want them to beat Amazon to market. The team, sequestered away in an old law office in Seattle, working among racks of the very books they planned to make obsolete, had already gotten a lot of things right. But one part still eluded them.

. . . .

“We knew we wanted it to be a wireless device that had no contract for customers,” Kessel says, but nothing like that existed. So Amazon worked with Qualcomm to build a system called Whispernet, which gave every Kindle owner free 3G connectivity so they could download books from anywhere. The feature felt like magic—both to the Kindle team and to early Kindle buyers. If you had to pick just one thing that made the Kindle a success, it was this.

. . . .

Since then, the device has torn through the publishing landscape. Not only is Amazon the most powerful player in the industry, it has built an entire book-based universe all its own. “Kindle” has become a platform, not a device. Like Amazon tends to do, it entered the market and utterly subsumed it.

Now, however, Amazon’s ebook project comes to a crossroads. The Kindle team has always professed two goals: to perfectly mimic a paper book, and to extend and improve the reading experience. That’s what readers want, too. In a world filled with distractions and notifications and devices that do everything, the Kindle’s lack of features becomes its greatest asset. But readers also want to read everywhere, in places and ways a paperback can’t manage. They want more tools, more features, more options, more stuff to do. Amazon’s still working out how to satisfy both sides.

. . . .

Everyone at Amazon likes to say that paper is great technology, and they seem genuinely uninterested in rendering paper obsolete. They’re just trying to make paper that connects to the internet. The Kindle they’ve always imagined is thin as paper, as light as paper, as flexible and durable as paper.

. . . .

Next up, flexibility seems at the top of the Kindle team’s minds. Building a Kindle “like paper” would mean one that can be rolled, folded, dog-eared, and turned into a paper airplane, and the beginnings of that tech is already showing up in prototypes and concept devices around the world.

. . . .

“The more that we’re distracted, the more valuable solitude becomes,” says Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware. “The last thing I want is being absorbed into an author’s story, and get an uplevel notification for Angry Birds.” Reading is about focus, about falling out of your life and into a story, and so the Kindle is about those things too.

. . . .

Amazon won the ebook market in a landslide, though it’s not clear how large a prize that really is. Some data shows ebook sales declining as print makes an unexpected surge, while other studies say digital reading continues to grow steadily. What’s crystal clear is that ebooks won’t unseat print anytime soon. People like the feel of a book, like the sense of place they get from holding the opened pages in their two hands, like the way they look on a coffee table. The Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of US adults said they’d read a print book in 2016, out of 73 percent who said they’d read a book at all. The only thing that will kill print books is when people stop reading altogether.

There is one part of people’s reading habits has changed dramatically over the last few years. That same Pew study found that people were nearly four times as likely to read a book on a tablet in 2016 as they had been five years earlier. They were also nearly twice as likely to read on their phones, and reading on a laptop or desktop PC spiked as well. All three are now more popular than reading on an e-reader.

. . . .

Limp says there was a debate over what to do, but also says it didn’t last very long. “You can’t tell them where they want to read,” he says. “They’re going to tell you where they want to read, and you have to be there.” So they built apps for everybody’s phones and tablets, and even the Chrome browser.

. . . .

For a decade, Amazon’s relentlessly offered new ways for people to read books. But even as platforms change, books haven’t, and the incompatibility is beginning to show. Phones and tablets contain nothing of what makes a paperback wonderful.

. . . .

“The Kindle’s aura of bookishness was the modern equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible’s aura of scribalness,” Nicholas Carr, the author and media scholar, wrote in 2011. “It was essentially a marketing tactic, a way to make traditional book readers comfortable with e-books. But it was never anything more than a temporary tactic.” Carr should have been right, but six years later nothing’s really changed.

The next phase for the digital book seems likely to not resemble print at all. Instead, the next step is for authors, publishers, and readers to take advantage of all the tools now at their disposal and figure out how to reinvent longform reading.

. . . .

If Amazon wanted to, it could with a single act bring a new form of book into being.

Link to the rest at Wired

Nate Hoffhelder comments at The Digital Reader:

The thing that many outsiders keep missing is that Amazon won the ebook market by giving consumers exactly the same stories they were already reading, only in a new package. Yes, Amazon invested huge sums in making the Kindle platform friction-free, but when you come down to it the content being delivered was the same as before – the only change was the medium it was delivered on.

And that is why it succeeded where previous attempts faltered. Amazon gave consumers the content they already wanted, only on a new medium that let readers carry hundred of books at a time.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG agrees with Nate about the same content in a new medium. PG would also be happy to have something better than a book show up, but, while he has read hundreds of magazine articles about new technology that will replace words on a screen, he hasn’t seen anything that looks very likely to do the job performed by books any better.

Journalists always have the idea that people want movies more than they want books. So text-only books are going to disappear in favor of a book-like thing that will have sound and video and interactive stuff that will magically work together and be better than text on a page or screen.

PG says large numbers of people like movies and TV shows and books, but there is no indication yet that those people really want something that smooshes all of those things together into a single storytelling experience with tiny actors and actresses dancing across a little screen interspersed with a series of MRI images and a video of a doctor explaining the symptoms of foot and ankle injuries.

PG suggests that one of the cool things about ebooks is that they don’t require big production budgets like movies do. If you’re going to create a successful movie or tv show, you need to find a large audience that is collectively willing to pay a lot of money to watch the production or, alternatively, watch a lot of commercials from businesses who are willing to spend a lot of money to interrupt the movie with commercials.

You need a mass market to fund mass market media.

In the age of ebooks, an individual author can fund the complete book creation process all by herself or himself. Creation requires time and a computer of some sort. Even a clunky old computer will serve to operate a word processing program and run a browser for uploading ebook files. You can probably use one at the library for free.

So a self-funded author combines with an ultra-low-cost distribution system like KDP to provide low-priced ebooks. And she doesn’t need a mass market for her books.

The author can make a living by creating books for a much smaller audience than is required for a traditionally-published book where sales have to support (1) Ingram and (2) Barnes & Noble plus pay for a lot of (3) expensive publishing people in New York and also (4) send a bunch of money to France or Germany or somewhere else where the (5) Big Bosses and (6) owners live.

So an indie author can find enough readers on Amazon who are willing to pay $2.99 for mysteries featuring a near-sighted ornithologist as amateur sleuth to quit her day job and live comfortably in Omaha. And another indie author can do the same with a mystery series featuring a far-sighted professor of philately as amateur sleuth while New York publishers continue to desperately search for the next James Patterson because those publishers are stuck in the million-seller business.

While PG has read a lot of tech magazine articles about high-tech devices that combine all possible entertainment options into something that fits in your pocket or purse and will immerse you so totally that you’ll never want to put it down, he doesn’t recall any similar stories about the impact of online bookstores on readers and authors.

Amazon, PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Tablets/Ereaders

56 Comments to “The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books?”

  1. Given that the printing press has been around for 600 years, it might take a liiiiiitle more time for digital to render paper books obsolete.

    • About 30-50 years is a good guess. We’re 10 years into the transition. The point to look for isn’t when nobody wants pbooks but rather the point where the economics of print are unprofitable for every type of book

      So far, reference pbooks (encyclopedias, Etc) are gone and narrative fiction is under stress. Narrative nonfiction is next.

      • I think the problem with reference books is that a physical book can’t hold all the information that the reader wants. A dictionary can only hold a fraction of the words that an online dictionary can, so it’s of far less value. Fiction–and most other similar types of books–don’t have this problem. You don’t get 1/10th of the story when you buy the paperback as opposed to the full story if you read it online. It’s not an equal comparison.

        • I’m not talking about the format but rather the business costs of supporting the format. Each format comes with a set of costs that determine the sales volume needed to make the format worth supporting.
          The narrative fiction pbook business relies heavily on launch window sales volume per title which has been declining for most of the decade. This is reflected in the steadily declining bar to achieve bestseller-dom. Once the launch window is past returns start coming in and the publisher either sits on the stockpile, which costs money, or they remainder the bulk of the unsold titles to minimize those warehousing costs. Because of the ongoing declines, print runs are being reduced and authors are being dropped, not because they don’t sell but because the return on investment is too low to publish them.

          This point comes well before the demand for the pbook craters. It is an ongoing process. Every time you hear of publishers dropping authors and imprints and reducing the number of titles published it is because the ROI decline. It is the reason for the ongoing phaseout of mass market paperback orogonals in favor of trade paperback and hardcover at the BPHs. It is also the reason for the BPHs obsession with shifting sales from ebooks to print. Tney have fixed costs associated with their print output that requires a minimum total sales volume to justify the pbook infrastructure.

          By all indications they are getting pretty close to the tipping point.
          (One clear indication came a couple years back when the randy Pemguin closed two warehouse complexes in Pennsylvania for one in the midwest. The new one was bigger than the closed ones but it was also a third smaller than the two closed ones combined: a clear sign of their declining unit sales and their need to align their costs to their lower sales.)

          What lies ahead is what happened in the music business during the transition from vinyl to CD: an overnight end to vinyl sales despite a still respectable volume. People were still buying vynil but not enough to keep the stamping presses and the rest of the infrastructure rolling. Not when CDs had much higher profit margin baked in.

          The tipping point on print isn’t imminent but it is a lot closer than print lovers realize.

          • There’s still things that publishers can do to hold off the tipping point. They can lower their fixed costs by moving their offices to lower-rent facilities outside of New York, augment long-term sales with on-demand printing rather than sitting on warehouse stock, outsource services, leverage their backlist more effectively, etc. Of course, they’d have to be proactive…

            • Sure.
              That’s the unknown factor in how long the transition takes. But delaying the inevitable doesn’t make it any less inevitable. And the longer they pursue the reactionary policies, the nastier the eventual reckoning.

              The Music Studios saw the handwriting on the wall and moved to CD early and improved their profitability by going to CD. And tbey extended their domination for decades.
              (Then they got “fat dumb and lazy” and ignored customer needs and changes in technology until the Diamond Rio woke them up. At which point they panicked, tried to stop the inevitable, and set the stage for napsterization
              Books haven’t gotten close to getting Napstered, to a large extent due to the Kindle, but it may yet happen. Different discussion that one.)
              The thing is ebooks, like CDs, are a higher net margin product than the dead tree pulp. An embrace of the technology, in those markets it is most suitable, would’ve helped long term survival even more. At a minimum it would fund the downsizing of the print infrastructure.
              The old tech world saw that “it is better to obsolete your own product than to wait for somebody else to do it” definitely applies.

  2. I suspect the media guys pining for “enhanced” ebooks are hunting for ways to make traditional publishers indispensable again.

    Thing is, we had enhanced ebooks back in the 90’s. Really good ones at good prices.

    They didn’t sell enough to justify the production costs. The value add isn’t enough of a draw so we end up with a market where tradpubs are optional at best and a hindrance to success at worst.

  3. Online bookstores revived many author careers. For two decades I was very frustrated having the rights to over 40 titles back from NY Publishers but not being able to do anything with those right.

    Theoretically, it seemed to me a publisher would love to snatch up a new series from me AND know they had all that backlist.

    Pragmatically, understanding how the consignment bookstores business worked, I accepted it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t rail against publishers, agents, bookstores, etc. It was the best business model in the book entertainment business they’d managed to put together.

    The Kindle changed all that. Jon Fine told me once: “It aint backlist if they haven’t read it.”

    Now with over 70 titles out there and more every year, I make a good living whereas 20 years ago, I’d be desperately trying to sell my next book to try to get an advance. And it’s not just number of titles. It’s that I make four times on an eBook as I would if traditionally published.

    The constant drum of “ebook sales are declining” is not worth listening to as no one (other than Amazon) know how many I, and many other indie authors are selling. Indie and hybrid authors have taken a huge chunk out of the traditional romance market and big ones out of other genres.

    I read on my iPhone. It fits in my pocket and it with me pretty much everywhere. It has hundreds of titles available. Primarily, it’s convenient. I still buy print, but it’s nice to have all those books available in my pocket.

  4. I can imagine a future without the written word, but it’s not a future I want to see. Audio, movies, VR, they all predigest the story and present it from the perspective of the Director, or whoever the Director answers to [often via ‘focus groups’ whose reactions are mined to distil the responses of the ‘average’ viewer].
    By contrast, the written word provides a relationship with just one other person – the author. Yet even there, the reader is free to interpret the author’s words however she pleases.
    You can do whatever you want with the /book/, but the words are sacrosanct.

  5. While audio books may be nice for some, I like to read at my own speed – and be able to go back and easily reread something that tripped me up or I didn’t catch/understand the first time.

    A ‘book’ is a story of some type put to words. Most of those so-called “enhancements” turn the story into something other than a book (and they should quit trying to call them books.)

    I expect to watch paper continue to decline as ‘readers’ and ebooks grow. Yes, there’s plenty of room for audio books, the “enhanced” books need a new name (‘Read Along’ comes to mind – oh wait, the kids have those already. 😉 )

    • I actually speed up the audiobooks I listen to on my own.

      Depending upon the book, I either speed them up a little or a lot. Faster improves my listening comprehension because I don’t get bored.

      • True, but any distraction or “Wait – What?” moment and the voice has moved on. Many like it, but not for me.

        Heck, my mother knits or plays computer games while ‘listening’ to the TV/Netflix, to her it’s just background noise as she does something else. She also downloads four books from the library every three weeks to sit quietly (no TV going) to read.

        On what I read doesn’t really matter to me, though ebooks are easier to handle than paper I think. The kindle, my netbook when away, at home on a large monitor at my desk (or the old 19″ CRT back in the day. 😉 )

        • My bluetooth headphones have skip-forward and skip-backward buttons. They work with overdrive audiobooks. If they worked with audible audiobooks I might sign up, since I find audiobooks great for walking.

  6. I don’t understand all the concern about having a reader only device. I have a Kindle, and I have iPads and an iPhone. I don’t ever worry about being interrupted because I can turn off alerts whenever I want. If the story Isn’t good enough to engage me, so that I’m not interested in clicking whatever new email or alert flys by, then it’s not the right book for me. I don’t have the attention span of a flea, I can figure out whether I want to be disturbed or not and resist the urge if I’m interested in the story.
    On the other hand, I absolutely adore the fact that I can sit in someone’s waiting room before a business meeting and read the latest romance without anyone knowing that I’m not reading a work related document.
    And if something important comes up, I CAN be alerted.
    As someone else noted, the convenience of reading on my phone or tablet is a huge benefit.
    I also use my Kindle Paperwhite in sunlight. Just a different interface, but I do find more limiting since I can’t get alerts if I want to.

    • The Kindle Paperwhite is the best listening device for me for many of the reasons you mention.

      No opportunity for add to lure me off somewhere else.

  7. My theory is that reading is the closest thing there is to entering into another person’s mind. When I pick up a book, the experience is close to what goes on in my skull as I live life. I can feel like I am looking through another person’s eyes and thinking another person’s thoughts. Movies and video can’t get as close. Audio gets closer than video, but each has its own qualities. I often download old Bob and Ray or 40s and 50s radio shows for entertainment. (Orson Welles in The Adventures of Harry Lime is amazing entertainment.)

    But I digress. Digital has advantages over paper (more portable, lighter weight, variable font size, to mention a few.) But paper is fine too. I do most of my digital reading on a Surface tablet, but Kindle is better in sunlight. My point is that reading is the real attraction, not the device that displays it.

    • Exactly.
      The story/content is the product, not the packaging. The dead tree pulp is just a delivery mechanism and an increasingly expensive to support one.

  8. Digital is awful for books with graphs, tables, pictures, etc. It could be superior, but isn’t close yet.

    • Agree. Digital readers are awful for anything graphic and could be so much better. I’ll add that paper books navigate better than digital in some ways– not all. The search function on a paper book sucks, but I haven’t found an adequate digital equivalent of a finger stuck in at a crucial table twenty pages back.

      It’s not the digital reading devices are bad, but I am convinced that they could be so much better.

      To a certain extent, I blame the poor state of digital readers on Amazon’s success. If Kindles had more competition, I suspect digital readers would get better fast.

      • Richard Hershberger

        My sense is that narrative plain text is a sufficiently large market that there hasn’t been pressure to adapt the technology to other sorts of books. It may be that as the narrative text market matures, the imperative to expand into those other sorts of books will increase.

        • Digital textbooks seems to be a growing, large, and lucrative market. I pity students trying to negotiate an organic chemistry text on a Kindle.

          • An interesting test for any digital format would be to offer either paper or digital for free. Users get to pick just one, and cannot resell them. I’m betting on paper for organic chemistry.

            • I’m not sure paper would win. As I remember, my org textbook weighed close to twenty pounds, as did physics and linear algebra. Hum books were much lighter. Lugging those bricks from an off-campus apartment to the library and back every day was hard work. I could have put up with a lot to replace a heavy book bag with a Kindle. College students of today must be at least as shiftless as I was back then…

  9. Richard Hershberger

    The real split to my mind is between a dedicated ebook reader with screen technology optimized for text (e.g. a Kindle Paperwhite) and everything else. My Paperwhite is great for text–much better than any other technology I have seen. It sucks for anything other than text–maps, pictures, etc. This limits the sorts of books it is good for. If they solve that, it will be a game changer for what I buy as ebook vs. as print. If they solve the problem of replicating having three books open on my desk at once, with my fingers stuck between pages of two of them with I take notes with my other hand, that would further alter my buying habits.

    In the meantime, I get the sense that the people who think that print is dead also tend to equate “book” with “narrative text.”

    • Print is never going to die totally but it is going to be slowly squeezed out of a lot of market segments, one by one.

      Don’t forget that narrative text and textbooks are by far the largest gross revenue generators for publishers…and both are under steadily increasing pressure by market forces.

      Niche-dom looms ahead.

    • Agree about the narrative book. We have seen real disruption there. Technology was applied to make a product many consider superior to paper.

      But, we haven’t seen the same kind of disruption outside the narrative form. I’d say application of existing technology could offer much more to the non-narrative form that it did to the narrative. (Non-narrative is any form containing something other than narrative.)

      For example, on a large screen drag and label little thumbnails to the margins for immediate access to those pages.

      Highlight any text, and it becomes part of a separate document so a user can create his own summary of what he chooses. Make as many of these subdocs as desired.

      Click any page, and it becomes part of a subdoc.

      For any subdoc, the user can add his own entries, then arrange both his own and the books entries as he chooses.

      Add entries from several books into the same subdoc.

      Create on the large screen, yet access both the book and the subdocs on the hand helds.

      All subdocs could be printed.

      I suspect the biggest impediment to this kind of innovation is the loss of revenue from the copying and creation of the subdocs.

      But, markets can’t move without consumers, and they will need a reason to prefer their non-narrative in digital rather than paper.

  10. “we haven’t seen the same kind of disruption outside the narrative form”

    print encyclopedias are dead – just ask the Encyclopedia Britannica

    print nonfiction in general is on life support – just ask O’Reilly

    • We can ask OReilly or Britanica about reference books. In those areas, digital did indeed present a better alternative for many. That has already happened. But they tell us little about history, econ, math, market analysis, etc.

      Publishing is not on life support. They are riding the decline and making very good money doing it. They know they are in a declining overall market, but they have many good earning years ahead. Income statements and balance sheets will tell us when they enter life support.

      Digital readers are still primitive. Fortunately, novels are very well suited to the primitive. Like screw drivers or hammers, it’s just very difficult to improve on some things. An uninterrupted flow of words is hard to beat.

      • You said ““we haven’t seen the same kind of disruption outside the narrative form””.

        I provided two examples that proved you wrong.

        And to be clear, I was actually trying to reply to you; I don’t know how this ended up a separate comment chain.

        “Digital readers are still primitive. ”

        No, you’re looking in the wrong place. Web browsers are very sophisticated and growing more so year by year.T^hat’s the real threat, not ebook readers.

        • Ebook readers do what they are supposed to do, sell entertainment fiction.
          Cloud based interactive applications are what is killing textbooks. Chromebooks and Winbooks will be the access points of choice, not tablets and not eink readers.

          The old line about companies going bankrupt slowly and then suddenly is all about tipping points. Things look comfortably under control until they hit the tipping point and it all comes crashing down.

        • No, you’re looking in the wrong place. Web browsers are very sophisticated and growing more so year by year.T^hat’s the real threat, not ebook readers.

          Sure, and we haven’t seen much from those web browsers. It doesn’t matter if the digital is displayed on an iPhone, Kindle, 22″ screen, VR goggles, or something new. We don’t see the sophisticated applications that would give a user reason to prefer digital over paper for many applications. Over a wide spectrum we don’t even see a choice. Where is it?

          Web browsers may indeed grow over the years. They have lots of growing left. While they grow, people will continue to use paper for many subject areas and purposes, and publishers will continue to manage a declining market by pulling as much cash from it as possible. They have many happy annual reports to come.

          • “We don’t see the sophisticated applications that would give a user reason to prefer digital over paper for many applications. ”

            There you go, looking in the wrong place again.

            Wikipedia didn’t need “sophisticated applications” to kill off print encyclopedias, and people who need to get a question answered don’t need “sophisticated applications” either. They just need a search engine.

            Hey, I found your ‘sophisticated application”! It’s called Google!

            Okay, that was a little snarky but honestly a search engine is sophisticated app when compared to what you can do with print.

          • I’m not so sure web browsers have much farther to go. The basic WWW architecture seems to me to be close to the end of its run. The WWW of HTTP servers and HTML browsers is getting a bit long in the tooth.

            We’ve gone beyond document exchange as the basic functionality of the network. We now exchange compute cycles addition to documents. File exchange has become extremely sophisticated (streaming video for example) but it isn’t the whole story any more.

            We’ve made web browser’s work for the purpose, but jamming all computing into a markup language is a stretch. I can’t tell you what will replace the WWW, but I can tell you that both SOAP and REST are hindered more than helped by HTTP. Many developers today think XML and HTML are too cumbersome to bother with. I apologize for the alphabet arcana, some of you may get what I mean.

            The future is probably something closer to ever more sophisticated apps in which browsers are deconstructed into libraries of document rendering functionality and embedded in the application logic, instead of the reverse, but that’s crystal ball work.

    • And print textbooks are next. Just ask Pearson.

      • Next can be a very long time. But they always seem right around the corner, no matter who we ask.

        • They started from a very strong position, yes. It’s not as if anybody is saying they’re collapsing tomorrow.
          But trends are trends and slow train wrecks lead to the same end point as overnight disasters.

          The underlying economics all point in the same direction. First the heaviest, most price sensitive consumers will change their consumption, then the rest of the market will slowly follow and trickle away. Its happened before and it’ll happen again. And again. And again.

          With textbooks, print is it’s own worst enemy: over decades the publishers have driven the prices so far beyond fair that the used book market constitutes a major portion of consumption forcing the publishers to move to digital. But their digital “solution” isn’t helping because it is intended to maintain their cash flow, not solve consumers very real problem. The inevitable outcome is the increasing interest in “Indie” textbooks, aka Open Textbooks, and other online teaching tools.
          As Nate keeps pointing out, everybody keeps looking for the Kindle of academia to arrive without noticing that that market is already moving in a very different direction that is even most hostile to tradpub than narrative text.

          The textbook peddlers are facing a future where instead of competing with tjeir suppliers, like in narrative text, they will be on competition with their biggest customers. That is a very hard contest to survive, much less win.

          Pearson and company are suffering because their customers no longer see them as a profit enabler but as a major cost center and well-run businesses seek to minimize cost centers. The very best turn them into profit centers for themselves.

          That is a total phase change.
          And those have tipping points too.

          • But trends are trends and slow train wrecks lead to the same end point as overnight disasters.

            There is no question that print is a declining market. We see the publishers behavior is consistent with managing decline. But it doesn’t rise to the level of either train wreck or life support. It appears to be a very orderly withdrawal.

            I don’t speak for everybody looking for a Kindle of academia. Perhaps they are looking. In my list of features a digital nonfiction application could have, I specified it was a large screen.

            And tipping points? They always seem to be just around the corner. Let’s see those nonfiction applications that will win over consumers. Where are they? Where do we buy econ books that present graphs, charts, and tables as well as print? We really doesn’t know what direction the market is moving until it arrives at some destination.

            So, sure. It’s a declining market. But, it has a long way to go, and lots of meny left to be made.

            • There’s lots of money to be made, but how much money have they left on the table with their reactionary policies?
              We’ll never know how much of the Indie ebook market would have remained in the hands of the BPHs if they hadn’t priced ebooks to protect print. We’ll never know how much of Amazon’s market share growth since they went to agency would have gone to interoperable epub.
              But in both cases the numbers would be substantial.
              Judging by the size of the indie market and the lost BPH market share I would WAG its anywhere from half to a cool billion a year.
              The fines and legal costs alone were half a billion.
              And those losses will compound with time because they aren’t losing just sales but also suppliers who have become competitors.

              And none of it had to happen.
              Similar stories can be found in the growth of used textbook businesses, the drive for open textbooks, and the growing dissent in the scientific journal world.

              No, they’re not going to implode this quarter or next. But the next decade?
              Decline wasn’t inevitable…
              …until their own actions made it inevitable.

              • There’s lots of money to be made, but how much money have they left on the table with their reactionary policies?

                I don’t know? How much?

                And pricing? Any analysis of pricing by publishers has to include full cross elasticity.

                I suppose it’s also reasonable to ask how much they would have lost in paper if they had lowered eBook prices. Neither question alone tells us much until we factor in cross elasticity.

                How much would they have lost in eBooks without the cross promotion from paper?

                Analysis from a ceteris paribus position is valuable in gaining an understanding, but it doesn’t go far enough to make decisions.

                A very interesting question is what comprehensive pricing strategy would allow publishers to extract the maximum amount of cash in a declining market.

                Decline of a given company and set of assets is never inevitable. But decline in the paper market is. Perhaps Random House will make a successful shift into hotels?

      • they’re already half way into the grave

      • My children are in three different schools. None of them have been issued text books this year. For any subject.

        • Do they have a supplied platform of choice or is it BYOB (bring your own box).
          One of the advantages of server based systems is they are hardware agnostic.

          • They use Chromebooks in all three schools here. My kindergartener, its all just printouts for now. At home, everything works on Mac or PC. We also have a Chromebook. The different EDU platforms they are using are all much better than the ones we used while homeschooling our oldest daughter while moving three years ago. They’ve come a long way.

            My eldest daughter can access all her reading materials on her smartphone.

  11. Seems to me that this “new form of book” that they keep prognosticating and looking for is already here, staring them in the face… computer apps/games/Internet… available in pretty much any form factor one wishes.

    • The technology always comes first.

      • Not always.
        Need comes first.
        Sometimes need drives technology, sometimes vision produces solutions in search of problems.
        Economic forces have the final word every time.

        • Well, the tech is actually already here – you can already tell incredibly complex stories using current web tech.

          It’s not used much because there’s no real need or desire for it, but the possibility is there.

          • It’s not used much because there’s no real need or desire for it, but the possibility is there.

            In that case, publishers will continue making money with paper.

          • The time may come…
            …or it might not.
            There’s no shortage of alternative storytelling niches. Some, like video games are very profitable so there is no need to invent yet another…
            …except that none of the alternatives are gatekept by the Manhattan mafia and their multinational overlords.
            A true “Crisis” that.

        • OK. The technology comes before the application of that technology. We have the technology today to build applications that will make digital superior to paper for many consumers.

          I have a need for that application for econ books, but nobody cares about me. Jeff stopped calling…

          • It would be fair to say that in most cases, the technology comes first, but its horribly expensive, because of economies of scale. There has to be need or desire on a mass scale before most technologies will become economically feasible to produce widely.

  12. The article seems to have things backwards.

    If the Lean Startup movement in tech has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t start with a solution and then go look for a problem to solve. That’s normally a great way to waste huge sums of time and money.

    You start with a problem or desire and then go look for a way to make it possible or easier or cheaper or quicker.

    The Kindle made obtaining long form narrative cheaper. It made finding all the stories by an author easier. Sometimes it was impossible to get back list stories. It made housing and accessing tons of books cheaper and easier. It made certain types of experiences MUCH easier to get to the market and find–look at the explosion of clean romances and Black fiction.

    The Kindle solved problems. This is why lots of people adopted it.

    So the question isn’t what can we do now that we’re not tethered to paper. The question is what need or desire is out there that we can make possible, cheaper, quicker, or easier?

    Some folks have talked about needs and desires people have with non-fiction for which there are no real good electronic solutions yet. Although, as stated, wikipedia solved the problem Encylopedias were trying to solve much better, with predicable horse and buggy to car results. Still, the problems textbooks are trying to solve seems like fertile ground.

    For fiction, what is the need or desire that long form fiction satisfies? That’s the real question. And is there a better or cheaper way to satisfy it?

    The question isn’t about paper versus screens. It’s about problems and desires.

    • Its not always about problems. Sometimes its just about making things easier. The iPhone didn’t solve any problems. It created benefits that didn’t exist previously, but it didn’t solve any problems. It may have created some, though.

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