Black Friday looms…
As of the week before American Thanksgiving—the biggest shopping weekend of the year and the official start of the XMas shopping season—e-reader prices seem to have dropped to $79. Amazon has yet to announce any specials for the season.
The push this Christmas season seems to have two pieces:
- The cheap e-ink readers (as gifts or otherwise), now under $100, to drive ebook sales over the Christmas holidays. This is a replay of last Christmas.
- The new colour tablets from Amazon, Kobo, B&N as a push forward. These devices priced at roughly half what an iPad or Galaxy Tab costs, still seem aimed at “early adopters.” Reviews so far portray these devices as somewhat underwhelming, much like the first generation of e-ink readers. But the price psychology will no doubt result in lots of these selling this winter, priming the market in 2012 for a big movement forward, as the second generation of these devices are released.
As Amazon, Apple, and co. drive to expand this market, they move to increasingly more powerful, feature-rich devices. Does this threaten book reading?
Penguin has pulled its new books from Overdrive and e-libraries, making it the 5th of the “big 6″ to hobble library ebooks. There is considerable confusion and controversy around the whether borrowing books takes away from sales—perhaps not on a one-to-one basis, but over time, over the long haul.
Important to keep in mind there are at least four parties involved: libraries, publishers, Overdrive/Amazon — and the readers themselves. As negotiations between any two play out, we see side-effects for the others. Few participants see the whole picture.
Speaking of which, Peter Brantley writes (http://www.slideshare.net/naypinya/what-if-the-future-of-libraries) of Amazon’s “loss-leader” strategy in the lending program:
For Amazon, the loss of revenue from lending (versus selling) is more than compensated for by increased traffic to the Amazon web site.
That’s the value of a platform.
Brantley suggests that what is needed is an (open) alternative to Amazon, one that a wide variety of stakeholders can buy in to. He also suggests that this problem is a problem of this moment in time; as content moves to digital, it will also migrate to the web. Libraries maybe shouldn’t lose too much sleep over ebooks per se.
Plummeting prices, overabundance of choices, the need for filters
More books are for sale than ever before, and it’s not slowing down. On Teleread, Rich Adlin says “I doubt there really is a single, good solution to the gatekeeping problem, except, perhaps, to not pay more than 99¢ for any ebook from an unknown author.” But really… this is just a re-statement of the problem.
The more substantial challenge is to get beyond the mass market mentality. Adlin struggles to find a workable price/quality balancing point, but I think that’s 20th-century “commodity” mentality. It isn’t going to be straightforwardly about price; it has to become about provenance, and reputation. Books are not commodities.
The move to the Web
Hugh McGuire’s PressBooks launched yesterday. This is a hosted web service (actually built on top of Wordpress) that provides an online writing and editing environment leading to pushbutton production of both ebooks and prepress-ready print books (for POD or whatever). PressBooks has existed as a hypothetical system for a couple of years (and I’ve been part of that discussion), posing the question: what happens when books are born on the web? But this week, it went live as a practical production strategy.