Urgent note to book industry: There's a better way to window eBooks

Frankly I am surprised that it took this long. But today, we read in the Wall Street Journal that two major publishers have decided to pull a music industry mistake. Simon and Schuster and Hachette Book Group have announced that they will not release most eBook editions until the hardbacks have been on shelves for four months.

And I quote David Young, CEO of Hachette Book Group, whom the article cites as saying: "We're doing this to preserve our industry, I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business."

 

Correction: This move is about the past of your business.

 

I'm just being a historian here when I point out that language like "We're doing this to preserve our industry" is a classic symptom of what we at Forrester loving call The Media Meltdown. I wrote a whole report on this ailment and its many symptoms, chief among them is that media businesses attempt to preserve analog business models in the digital economy, even when analog economics no longer apply. This is exactly that scenario.

I have two very important messages to offer the book industry (most all of them clients, so I'm trying to be delicate here, the way a group of friends running an intervention for an alcoholic have to act even if it involves summoning tough love). The first message is the hardest to hear and it will make me some enemies. But the second message offers some hope and I encourage you book types to give it a fair hearing, because I have history and economics on my side. 

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The Nook changes the game with the first built-in social experience

The official announcements about the Nook went out yesterday and much has been said about the device, such as whether it trounces the Kindle (it does not) and whether the delay in shipping (units you buy today, for example, are expected to ship January 15) will permanently keep the Nook out of the running (it will not).

Because so much has already been said, we paid attention to what hasn't yet been said -- as far as we can tell, by anyone. It's this: the Nook is the first eReader to hit the market that has any kind of social connectivity built in to it. I'm referring to the "loan a book" feature the Nook offers. Read reviews like the one at CNET and you'd think that the book loaning feature is a flop because: a) it only applies to select books (at the publishers' whim) and b) it only lasts for 14 days.

I'm gonna tell you a secret: it doesn't matter how limited today's loan a book feature is, it's a huge step in an increasingly important direction for eReaders.

People share books. They share them, and then they talk about them. A lot. This fact is so critical to the way people read books that it is amazing that none of the eReaders yet offered to the market have any meaningful book sharing built into them. So even though the Nook is shipping late (folks, this is the eReader market, demand has been outstripping supply for the past two years now, stop acting surprised that Barnes and Noble and Sony are experiencing delays), we applaud its arrival because it opens Pandora's social box in this space. Once it's open, this box will set free all kinds of goodies that we are excited to have, including:

 

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New Forrester Report: The Battle For The eBook Consumer

We've been writing a lot about eReader devices, but let's focus on the content for a moment. Why? Because selling a lifetime of eBook content to consumers is the end game of many companies in this space, especially Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They sky's the limit here. Consumers don't own digital libraries of books, as they did with music: When mp3 players came out, most consumers owned CDs that could be easily burned to a computer and downloaded to a device. Not so with books.

 

And the market for digital books, while catalyzed by the existence of dedicated eReader devices, will extend across multiple devices including desktops, laptops, mobile phones, netbooks, tablets, MIDs, portable gaming devices, and devices that haven't been invented yet. As we discuss in a new Forrester report, Forrester's data (based on a mail survey of 4,711 US consumers conducted in Q3 2009) shows that 3% of US consumers read eBooks on their desktop computers today; 2% read on laptops; and fewer than 1% read on dedicated eReaders, mobile phones, or netbooks, respectively. When it comes to future demand, 19% of US consumers say they're interested in reading eBooks on their desktop PCs, 14% say they're interested in reading on eReaders, 11% voice interest in reading on netbooks, and 5% say they're interested in reading on their mobile phones. What this means: Consumers are reading books digitally on multiple devices, and they will continue to do so.

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Ten eReader And eBook Predictions For 2010

2009 has been a breakout year for eReaders and eBooks--device sales will have more than tripled by the end of this year, and content sales are up 176% for the year--but 2010 will be anything but boring. Here are Forrester's predictions for what will happen in the next year:

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