The Week E-books Won the War

Years from now when I gather my grandkids around and tell them about this thing called print books, I’ll talk about  this past week as the point in time that e-books won the war. Three defining events marked the arrival of the age e-books, and signaled that the era of physical bookstores has officially passed:

The $139 Kindle

With the release of the new lower-priced Kindle, Amazon has effectively made the e-book mass-market. The cool kids still want an iPad, but grandma and grandpa just want to read, thank you, and for that a $139 Kindle will do the trick. The company saw a tripling of sales for the device when it dropped the price of the previous generation to $189; a new generation Kindle at $139 will open up a whole new market.

But it’s not just Kindle. Other e-readers are dropping in price extremely fast, and there will likely be a major player with a $99 e-reader by Christmas or soon thereafter. In fact, if Amazon could keep up with demand, the company would likely do that itself, though they know the Kindle is in such great demand they don’t have to.

The One Million e-book Author

Poor Steig Larsson. Not only did he die before he could see his trilogy about Lisbeth Salander became a worldwide phenomenom, he also missed out on celebrating his position as an e-book pioneer. While James Patterson and Stephanie Meyer gave him a run for his money, it was Larsson who became the world’s first author to hit the million e-books sold milestone.

This is only the beginning. Like Ashton Kutcher and his one million Twitter followers, the one million milestone will soon seem quaint, fueled by a rapidly growing e-reader installed base.

Barnes & Noble Goes On The Block

The most iconic name in brick-and-mortar books has struggled in recent years as sales of physical books drop and the market for e-books caught fire. This week, Barnes & Noble announced it was exploring strategic alternatives, including putting itself up for sale. While the company hasn’t ignored the rise of digital publishing, its Nook product came after Amazon had established itself as a leader in the space and others, such as Apple and the iPad, made a competitive market white hot.

There’s no doubt other brick and mortar bookstores will follow in its path. Despite the advantage of cozy retail environments and physical storefronts, the hammer of low priced e-books will steadily nail coffins shut across the book retailing landscape.

While print books will never go away, like the music and film industries before it, the digital transition will remake the face of publishing and bookselling. In a world of low-cost digital distribution, legacy cost structures will weigh down those who can’t adapt fast enough and ultimately sink them.

And while nostalgic tales of bygone eras may make for good storytelling for future generations, there’s no doubt many of the stories will have a sad ending.

You may also be interested in attending our half-day GigaOM Pro bunker on August 25th, Disintermediation in Publishing. This bunker will look at the impact of digital publishing on traditional publishing and bookselling. If you are a GigaOM Pro subscriber, you may request here.

Question of the week

Do you think Amazon’s lower-priced Kindle ushered in the age of the e-book?
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Michael Wolf

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6 Comments Subscribers to comment
  1. I’m from Australia and its not a co-incidence that an article came out recently that one of our major book retailers (Borders, Angus & Robertson) which makes up 25% of the Australian book market is really struggling and may go bankrupt.

    The online bookstore and ebook devices are really disrupting the retail model.

    I’ve just recently spent a lot of money on second hand books. I love being able to walk into a second hand book shop and look through old/cheap books. You won’t be able to find picture books (it won’t be the same on a digital screen)!

  2. Michael Wolf Friday, August 6, 2010

    I believe books will become more social, and can even see some location-based interaction around some book properties. I don’t know if I would draw the analogy w/multiplayer video games, though, as by definition video-gaming is more interactive, more social, while reading tends to be more of a solitary/single person experience.

    I do, however, think shared digital bookshelves are important. I can’t understand Kindle’s single-account per device policy – I think eReaders should allow multiple accounts per device or allow for limited sharing of books (that is how, after all, how real-life works w/physical books).

  3. The ebook, and especially the iPad bookshelf and book-cover metaphor, points to a day when online bookstores will be multiple-user-domains. We will shop as avatars on touch screens, pulling books off the shelf to scan through them and striking-up conversations with nearby avatars who are browsing similar topics. Its nothing more than a more evolved form of multiple-player video games that are kids have been doing for years now.

  4. James Kendrick Thursday, August 5, 2010

    I have been a fan of e-books for a decade, and have long predicted this time was coming. That said, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about the neighborhood used bookstore, with its distinct smell of pages full of wonder.

    1. James – you are TRULY an early adopter, my friend. Agreed on print bookstores – wandering through them is one of the joys of life. And paper smells better than bits, anyways :)

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