Is e-book optimism delusional?

There’s an interesting post on GigaOM predicting a rosy future for e-books. Its author, Trey Ratcliff, cites the attraction of much higher profit margins, thanks to disintermediation, the fact that readers do not substitute e-books for physical books one-for-one (hello, record and movie companies!!), and the marketing power of social media. His own experience of moving from authorship to e-book publishership was one of rapid revenue and profit growth. Lucky him – he obviously started from the base of a large online presence.

I’ve got no idea if I should agree with his forecast of the scale of likely growth. But I do think book publishers have learned some lessons from the terrible example set by the record companies, and they are innovating around what customers seem to want. However, the biggest likely stumbling block to an ultra-rapidly growing e-book market will be the bottleneck of the giant distribution platforms and their charging policies. That surely promises to be a fascinating anti-trust case down the road?



3 thoughts on “Is e-book optimism delusional?

  1. Having just published my first couple of e-books, and discovered how easy it is, I’m pretty sure I can drive better distribution than a conventional publisher, except for the minority of “blockbusters” that they throw marketing money at. The publishers are going to have to come up with value-added proposition to stay in the loop. I hear that Apple are going to announced a platform for interactive textbooks on Thursday, and I imagine that a lot of other authors will just grab that platform and cut out the middlemen.

  2. There’s going to be a boom in tablet sales this year: Apple’s iPad3, other suppliers already lowering prices to grab market share. More tablets = more e-book sales.

    The Apple v Amazon scenario was not, initially, attractive to consumers, writers or publishers; the end user was required to own the supplier’s hardware (iPhone or iPad for an Apple e-book, Kindle for an Amazon e-book).

    That obstacle has gone. There are now Kindle apps that allow the consumer to read an Amazon e-book purchase on any device. (

    This should open up the market place.

    There’s an argument that a lively duopoly can be good for everyone. Think Microsoft. Was their near-monopoly position in PCs a significant factor in the rapid growth of PC sales? Many say it was.

    Consumers don’t respond well when faced with too much choice. Any marketer will confirm this.

    I see a parallel with the PC market circa 1995. Apple had the Macintosh, lovely but expensive. Microsoft had a less attractive OS but grabbed the PC market via lower prices. Apple remains Apple. Amazon may be to e-books what Microsoft was to the PC.

    The present situation, with just two major e-book distribution platforms, should serve everyone well. And it shouldn’t prevent others entering the platform market. So long as authors retain their work in a non-eBook proprietary electronic format (e.g. Word), it can appear via a new platform at the click of a few buttons.

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