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

For example:-

-Reintroduce scarcity.

-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

On the face of it the world of publishing is about to be blown apart by Kindle and other readers. The reasons are economics and scale.

First Economics

As my correspondent Prof Glyn Morgan of the Political Science Department in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University reports

“Amazon is offering 70 per cent royalties to anyone willing to upload their book to Kindle. With publishers offering 8 per cent hardback and 4 per cent paperback, more and more people could bypass publishers.

Amazon pricing for Kindle books much lower than a new paperback (let alone hardback)

This is very bad for publishers, but not for authors. In fact the 70 per cent royalty they offer on books (whether kindle or direct to paperback) priced between 2:99 and 9:99 US dollars still makes them very attractive to authors.”

Second Scale

Amazon now offers a very large international platform for authors- larger than any book chain- and with Amazon India opening up it will be increasingly attractive to authors publishing in English

Implications ?

If authors do decide to self publish they would then have to do all the marketing and promotion themselves (publishers do very little in any case unless you are a bestseller). But in truth this is only attractive to the hardy and tech-aware few.

Most authors are too busy researching and writing for this (famously tedious) side of being an author.

And this of course means that Agents/Publishers need to evolve their offer quickly.

It also opens the opportunity for a new type of company that

a)    Sorts out all the technical, admin and business end of providing e-books to different platforms

b)    Doesn’t just “stick the ebooks out there” but also markets them as well

c)    Understands both traditional book marketing and integrates it with the emerging skill of using social media and other digital platforms

Interesting times

Debate about this at this at the Edinburgh book fair on 27/08 should be interesting

I will post a review of this session

Last year a new book- the Shallows by Nicholas Carr- suggested that the internet and new devices are “rewiring” of our brains and creating a new generation with the attention span of a knat- unable to concentrate without clicking away to something else. Certainly you have to get to the point quicker these days ( most videos on youtube last less that 3 mins) but that may be more to do with being busy, our perceived shortage of time and the explosion of choice

And then there is this this from The bookseller…

“Although overall book sales fell 2.2% week-on-week (to £25.1m), spending on children’s books soared nine percent week-on-week, according to Nielsen BookScan Top 5,000 data, as schools broke for half-term. Children’s authors benefitting include Jeff Kinney, whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid series enjoyed a 20% uplift week-on-week, Rick Riordan (total sales up 9%), Jacqueline Wilson (up 17%), Anthony Horowitz (up 12%), Darren Shan (up 26%), and Octonauts author “Meomi” (up 7%)

It seems that the next generation still love to immerse themselves in good old fashioned stories and that the answer to Nicholas Carr’s question “Does Google Make us stupid ?” is probably not – it just gives is more rapid access to books and other stuff we want.