Excellent debate in The Guardian kicked off at the Edinburgh book fair.
Here is my two penny worth
The race to the bottom-it will happen in the mass market
Simple print only E- Books are going to be almost infinitely available very cheap through official platforms (eg Amazon) or free through piracy. Difficult to see how you can stop this.
In the next three years Kindles will be given away or sold very even more cheap as the next generable Kindle comes on stream. The kindle today feels like at intermediate technology-Black and white and average useability
Price is determined mostly by scarcity so easy and cheap availability of a file that is no more sophisticated that a pdf will result in a race to the bottom-check out the amazon top 100 ebooks. Most are 99 p or less.
So Bookshops and publishers are in trouble- no question
Second Piracy may be over-stated.
Early adopters tend to be more aware of the free option and seek it out-the majority may prefer official channels especially as e-books are cheap.
For example, studies among early adopters of PVRS ( such as Sky+) suggested that the TV ad was dead as everyone would skip the ad break- turned out not always to be the case among the average coach potato ( like me)
Some future scenarios
The arrival of cheap/free e-books is big a disruption and survival will go to those most ready to adapt.
Supermarkets had a similar effect on food retailing and this experience mostly tells us that it is a mistake to be stuck in the middle. You should either be about scale/mass or premium/niche/specialist. Some of these premium/niche/ specialist markets are not small- in fact thanks to the internet they can be global
So where are the opportunities to add value and margin produced by this disruption?
Some general principles
Add value in different ways
-Deliver things that digital /electronic media cannot do
-Be innovative using the capabilities digital gives you
Some ideas (some of which are happening already)
-Bookshops will stop selling just books and sell experiences- see Daunts and Toppings
-Literary festivals will grow that as they sell experiences- alongside books/ebooks
-Some sectors will thrive in paper such as children/photography/art books because the pleasure of ownership and use is intensely physical and sensual. The e-books challenge will cause a reaction- they will become even more desirable-with more emphasis design and presentation. Just as fast food spawned slow food so the cheap ebook will stimulate even more gorgeous and desirable physical object
-Digital will liberate some sectors to become a completely different “product”-some children’s “books” will become “multimedia experiences” by harnessing some of the UK’s leading edge techies.
-Travel books will be better as ebooks-light to carry/multimedia and with ecommerce links
-Writers will (again) publish work in installments and sell direct to readers via a subscription arrangements in order to avoid piracy and reintroduce scarcity ( others have said this)
-A new type of publishing company will emerge that helps authors connect with readers by using digital marketing and social media, globally.
These publishing companies will also orchestrate the multi skilled teams needed to produce next generation multimedia e-books
And much much more-the only response to this disruption it seems to me is to see it as fuel for creativity and “added value”
Or more simply-innovate to produce things that people value enough to pay for