“Originally, we weren’t exactly sure how to market the Touch. Was it an iPhone without the phone? Was it a pocket computer? What happened was, what customers told us was, they started to see it as a game machine. We started to market it that way, and it just took off.”
–Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs on Amazon and Ice Cream
There’s a particularly virulent meme running through the publishing industry that says the only thing keeping eBooks from supplanting print books tomorrow is a great eReader, and that Apple’s long-rumored Tablet is that killer device. Yesterday, another Apple event came and went and, as has happened every single time, there was neither an announcement of a Tablet, nor any mention of eBooks being a critical part of their plans for world domination.
Interestingly, Jobs specifically noted that eBooks weren’t a significant market yet, pointing to Amazon’s continued silence on the actual number of Kindles they’ve sold: “Usually, if they sell a lot of something, you want to tell everybody.”
Two other notable developments popped up yesterday that suggest the hype surrounding eBooks has hit an unwarranted level of “irrational exuberance”: the premature demise of Quartet Books (“there are very few industry best practices“), and Tor.com’s announcement of a POD-based imprint.
Some additional perspective:
“The installed base of e-readers could soar from 1 million in 2008 to 32 million in 2014, the report stated. Credit Suisse expects about 4 million e-readers will be in use in the U.S. by the close of this year…
However, while Kindles are profitable, Amazon loses an estimated $1.50 per e-book it sells, although this should flip to profitability in 2012 as Amazon’s costs come down.”
The Association of American Publishers says e-book (electronic book), sales topped $12 million in June – up more than 150 percent from the same month last year.
“Sales [at Barnes & Noble] fell 5.3% to $1.16 billion as same-store sales fell 6.9%, in line with the company’s forecast for a same-store sales decline of 5% to 7%.”
Setting aside the relatively small (but growing) piece of the pie currently represented by eBooks, there’s a much bigger question that needs to be asked.
Considering the various complications surrounding them — everything from the controversial Google Book Settlement to the thorny issues of pricing, rights, royalties and distribution — the Apple Tablet, or any eReader that is able to duplicate the iPod’s success, would appear to be a “careful what you wish for” proposition.
It’s worth remembering that the iPod didn’t “save” the music industry, it radically transformed it, primarily to Apple’s benefit, and to a much lesser degree, some musicians.
Is the publishing industry really ready for that transformation?