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.
Today the long-anticipated joint venture betweenConde Nast, Hearst, News Corp, Time Inc and Meredith Publishing became official. These firms -- all of them up against the ropes in an effort to deal with declining magazine ad revenue and the lackluster performance of online ad models -- have decided that to face the digital future, they'd rather do it hand-in-hand.
The motivation for the union is simple: eReaders are taking over the book publishing world, meanwhile magazines are left in the dust, with no devices they can call their own.
I mean, really, have you tried to read Business Week on your eReader? It ain't pretty. And on the Kindle, most magazine publishers want to charge you for the painfully slow page turning experience of the device all in exchange for the convenience of automatic delivery to your portable device. So the industry -- seeing a world that is evolving without their interests in mind -- is joining hands to solve two problems:
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.
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: