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eBooks Future

Posted on Friday, Jan 12th 2007

Harper Collins announces an investment in NewsStand this week to enhance its digital efforts. This draws attention of book lovers and passionate readers to the future of Books.

Some of the more successful book projects recently have been the blockbuster Harry Potter series and the Da Vinci Code franchise, as well as the literary successes like The Kite Runner, Interpreter of Maladies, and others.

But for every success, there are hundreds of thousands of titles that sit in piles, languishing in sad insignificance. Authors spend large chunks of their lives to write books. A miniscule percentage of them actually get read. Granted, much of what is written is bad writing. However, even that which is good, needs marketing, and few titles actually recieve it.

Furthermore, much of the non-fiction writing, which sells better than fiction, says something which can be said in 100 pages, in 400, unnecessarily making the book less marketable. Business books are notorious for exhibiting this phenomenon.

So would eBooks change all this?

It might. But we need to first define what is the usage model of eBooks, looking into the future. I had a conversation with Bill McCoy, who is the Vice President in charge of Adobe’s eBooks efforts, to ask him this question. Bill said, and I agree, that the notion of the additional, specialized eBook Readers that SONY and others are producing would become irrelevant. However, the evolution of the iPhone – the smartphone, MP3 Player, Camera, Video Player, Laptop – convergence device will include eBook Reader functionality, allowing us to carry whole libraries of books in our pocket or handbag.

So, if we have a ubiquitous, light, portable device that lets us read – on the beach, in the toilet, on trains, planes, and in bed, then the market for an iTunes for eBooks would become critical. There may also be an AdSense for eBooks, allowing books to become free and ad-supported, thus changing the publishing industry business models even further.

These two steps would make the long tail of book authors find a much better channel to market themselves, in the same way that small bands have found fans because of the iPod-iTunes and related eco-system upheaval. Being able to effectively market, sell, monetize micro-content is crucial to the publishing eco-system, and the book authors at this point are stuck in a horribly slow and outdated process of chasing magazine editors, agents, publishers, and even when they succeed in publishing something, they get a very small amount of the related revenue.

They are looking for a change.

I am looking for a change.

In a different generation, I am, most likely the kind of person who would have looked for an agent and a publisher, and done a business book by now. Perhaps more than one, given how much I write. Instead, I have done the Blog. Most non-fiction writers in the future, unless they believe they have a blockbuster in their hands, or have an existing brand as an author which will sell books like hot cakes without additional marketing, will do better to start with Blogs and establish a readership, a voice, and focus on the corresponding ad revenues that could be significant. [For a focused, highly desirable audience, you can get $25-$50 CPMs, perhaps more, as your brand equity rises.]

And then, when you are actually ready to write a book, why not just write an eBook and sell it on your website? Why should you split the money with Agents and Publishers? Especially when they offer you so little?

For Fiction Writers, the story is a bit different. I believe, it is much more difficult to establish a web property around Fiction / Literary writing with a single individual’s writings. This brings us to Literary Media companies like Salon Media or the New Yorker Magazine, of which, the latter has traditionally been a superb launching ground for new authors.

If I were running either of these magazines, I would turn them into active web properties, as well as eBooks and physical book Publishing companies, since they already have brands and a readership that is essentially a ready market for selling books into. I am surprised that neither has done that, and as a result, Salon, which is a public company, languishes in a no man’s land of miniscule revenues, and welfare psychology, depending on patronage from benevolent men like John Warnock.

Anyway, I will be watching the evolution of this space, and looking for some vision from the movers and shakers. And if none moves, some little guys will, and topple them over. Wouldn’t be the first time.

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Yes, somebody must come up with an e-book iPod kind of product & many companies(sony & others) are working on it. A product like this will surely bring a revolution if it is also affordable.
I haven’t heard about the response to Sony’s e-book reader after it’s launch in US and i really want to know as it’s a very exciting technology which can make life much more easier by providing written material easily & cheaply & that will further fasten the process of human evolution.
I hope i do make a little sense. ; – )

Rohit Malik Friday, January 12, 2007 at 11:11 PM PT

Interesting commentary on ebooks. I’m still an ebooks skeptic, despite (or because of) my experience spending so much of my day reading on screen. I think the larger, nearer-term change that will hit the industry is print-on-demand IN bookstores, so B&N can stock one copy each of 80,000 titles for browsing (instead of scores of copies of the big new books, and many worthwhile titles not in the store at all). Visitors will browse, select a book, wave it under the bar code scanner at the end of every aisle, and a brand new printed copy will be waiting for them in just a few minutes behind the cash register.

Ted Weinstein Monday, January 15, 2007 at 3:10 PM PT

Is the technology for decentralized JIT publishing there? I’m not sure …

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