e-Books on the March

The Nook e-Reader, released by Barnes & Noble just in time for the holiday shopping season.
The Nook e-Reader, released by Barnes & Noble just in time for the holiday shopping season.
The e-book revolution continues apace. In the past week, Barnes & Noble announced the introduction of its own electronic book reader – the Nook – to compete against Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader. Amazon promptly responded by lowering the price of the Kindle to match Barnes & Nobles’ Nook e-reader price. No doubt, both companies are looking to the holiday season, hoping their products will turn out to be among the few that are “stars” in what will otherwise be a season of tepid merchandise sales.

And now Google has gotten into the fray as well. It has announced new details on the pending launch of its e-bookstore, Google Editions. This is an online bookstore that will deliver digital books to any digital device such as e-readers, laptops and cellphones. Google plans to offer up to 600,000 book titles during the first half of 2010 alone, nearly matching the number of volumes that Barnes & Nobles will be offering with the Nook.

True to form, Google seems bent on taking an idea that is gained acceptance in the market – and then scrambling the deck to create a new set of game rules. In this case, it’s attempting an end-run around Amazon’s and Barnes & Nobles’ proprietary e-reader devices by offering the ability to download books to any digital device.

Google’s hope is that e-readers will eventually lose their luster once books are available for download to any device. But Forrester Research is estimating that ~3 million e-readers will be sold in 2009 — ~1 million higher than its earlier estimate. And some observers think that Google may be underestimating the importance and value of the proprietary e-readers; they note that Kindle users have been highly satisfied with the product and how it performs. (Besides, the audience for reading entire books on a cellphone device is probably pretty limited!)

In Google’s program, publishers will set the price of books, while Google will earn over half of the profits and share them with its retail partners. But there is an aspect of Google Editions that might turn out to be a significant “negative” for at least some users. Google is toying with the idea of including AdWords or AdSense advertising in its book offerings. Cramming a bunch of advertising surrounding the book contents could be a big turnoff. Even having blue-highlighted links in the text — while normal and expected when reading an online article such as this NonesNotes blog post – could be a major distraction when plowing through the contents of an entire book volume.

Regardless of how things play out, it’s clear that the ~$150 million e-book segment is going nowhere but up in the coming years, and it will be interesting to see how each of the key industry players ends up faring in the coming months. (And the story line gets even juicier with reports that Apple is also nosing around this market and may have something important to unveil before long.)

One thought on “e-Books on the March

  1. It really is amazing how e-books have suddenly (i.e., in the last year or two) gotten traction. It will be interesting indeed to see how this all pans out.

    Clearly, it will transform the publishing business. For example, the distinction publishers now make between the “American market” and the “overseas market” will disappear. If you publish a title in Baltimore, you’ll immediately be able to sell it to readers in London and Sydney. Moreover, books will never go out of print. There will be many more of them. And they will be cheaper.

    But there is a downside, too.

    First, I suspect editors will go the way of blacksmiths. A few will stick around, but publishers won’t have the margins they once had to “polish the prose.” Many titles will be released with little or no editing at all.

    Too, just as mp3 players put record stores out of business, e-books undoubtedly will strangle most independent book stores and big chains. To make matters worse for book retailers, Walmart and Target—among a few others—have announced they’re slashing the price of hardcover NYT bestsellers down to nine bucks. Indy booksellers can’t match that. The fat lady is warming up.

    And that’s a shame. Part of the charm of going into a bookstore is the wonderful serendipity of stumbling across interesting new titles. Most of the books I’ve bought through the years have been “discoveries,” not books I set out intending to buy. And the serendipity factor doesn’t stop at the bookstore door. How many times do we stumble across old books at home, dust them off, and start reading?

    When books become nothing more than digital files we download on a Kindle, what we lose—or what we are in danger of losing—is the occasion to be delighted by the unexpected.

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