The eBook Market Is Dividing

Further mulling on possible development of the epublishing revolution:

It’s difficult not to believe that the so-called “traditional publishers” will not continue to expand availability of their books online, for either Amazon.com’s Kindle and/or B&N’s Nook. Given their business models and the difficulties in the book market now and continuing into the future, those publishers simply have to maximize their sales however they can, and they’re not going to walk away from selling digital copies of the titles they’re bringing out. The only questions will be what difference if any they’ll make in pricing the hard-copy print editions versus the digital editions, and whether they’ll do Hollywood-style progressive roll-outs, i.e. if you absolutely have to have some bestselling author’s new book on the very first day it’s available, you have to go down to the bookstore and buy a print copy, because the digital edition won’t come out until weeks later.

Those are pretty minor decisions, more a matter of fine tuning the business model than anything else. The general upshot of that development will be that whatever books the traditional publishers bring out, they’ll be available in the brick-&-mortar retail outlets and online.

The problem for the traditional publishers is that as the epubbing revolution continues and expands, and as more and more writers at all different levels of popularity and sales bring out titles that are only available online, then the market will have effectively divided. The reading audience will have two purchasing options open to him or her: 1) the “real world” bookstores, which have only the offerings from the traditional publishers and maybe some small press stuff, or 2) the ebook readers such as the Kindle and Nook, which will have all of the traditional publishers stuff available for them, plus all of the epubbed stuff that’s available only online and not available in the brick-&-mortar, “real world” stores. As the amount of “exclusively online” stuff grows, how can that have any other effect than making the ebook readers and the ebook market more and more attractive to the reading audience? And of course, that attractiveness will continue to increase at the same time that the price of the ebook reader devices will continue to drop. At some point, Amazon.com could decide to simply crush the traditional publishers by giving away a stripped-down Kindle for virtually nothing, and covering the expense of doing so by selling so many more ebooks to such a vastly increased audience.

If I were a traditional publishing executive, the thing that would keep me awake at night and staring at the ceiling would be the spectre of the free or virtually free Kindle. At that point, the book market would no longer be divided; it would be online, period. And the traditional publishers have overheads that need to be covered for them to continue operating, that writers self-publishing their own books simply do not have. The economics favor the small, quick “low overhead” rat-like mammals, not the big, bulky, slow-moving and unevolved dinosaurs.