Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ebook sales are going exponential

More fascinating news on the ebook front: yesterday, Borders announced it was cutting the price on the Kobo and Aluratek e-readers to $129 and $99, respectively. I've posted before about how Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis predicted a while back that e-readers would come down to $100 by the end of this year, and he was obviously right. His own device is getting very close to that price point and will in all likelihood be there by Christmas.

I mention this because I had an interesting conversation with my agent the other day about ebooks and where they're currently at. It's no secret how enthusiastic I am about them, but he suggested that maybe I'm being a bit too rah-rah - after all, ebooks make up only about 8% of current sales. Publishers are understandably far more concerned about the 92% of sales that their actual printed books bring in.

However, we also talked about another (top secret) subject where I use the term "exponential growth" quite a bit, and I started wondering how that technological truism applies to ebooks, especially in light of this increasingly fierce competition in devices.

Here's how I see the numbers. Amazon debuted the Kindle almost three years ago; ebook sales at the time were too small to really register. According to the Book Industry Study Group, ebooks made up only 1.5% of the total U.S. market in 2009, but jumped to 5% during the first quarter of 2010, a number that has further risen since to the 8% quoted above. In the words of BISG, ebook sales are growing "exponentially."

In two years, ebooks went from zero to 5% with basically one device to read them on. In three months, they went from 5% to 8% with a few new competitors to the Kindle on board. That has a lot of people thinking that sales are going exponential. Indeed, with this sort of growth rate, the majority of books sold will be ebooks in only a few short years.

Looking at music sales is particularly instructive. Similarly, sales of digital music were essentially nil before Apple opened the iTunes store in 2003. Digital music revenue, however, is projected to surpass physical revenue this year in the United States and worldwide in 2016.

To go from zero to 50% in just seven years is astonishing, and exponential. Not surprisingly, the music industry has been reeling for much of this time because things have moved extremely quickly.

If the numbers of the past three years are anything to go by, it looks like the transformation in books is going to happen even faster. The question is, are publishers ready for it?


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