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Ebooks in 2015: Trends and Forecasts Part 2
Posted On January 20, 2015
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Innovation Still Abounds

Stephen King’s novella Riding the Bullet was sold only in ebook format way back in 2000, making it the first mass-market story available only for download—and given his name brand, it sold more than 400,000 copies during the first day of sales. In 2009, King wrote his novella UR for the Kindle, which exclusively held the rights for the first year of sales. Innovation abounds today as well. In brief summary:

  • BitLit is now offering free or cheap ebook copies of print/physical books you own.
  • Waterstones, a bookseller in the U.K., is “injecting new life into bookshops” by offering better user experiences and innovative marketing efforts, according to The Guardian.
  • Libraries are continuing to work with self-published authors, providing assistance and physical spaces for publishing itself and opportunities for authors to meet and create their own communities in both public libraries and academe.
  • Also in academe, the deconstruction of textbooks and the creation of open educational resources to meet the needs of instruction while keeping costs low is moving quickly throughout higher education and now is beginning to be seen more in K–12.
  • Macmillan Publishers is now working with ebook subscription systems in efforts to pursue new distribution channels.
  • Hachette partnered with ecommerce platform Gumroad to sell books on Twitter as a new channel for distribution and customer outreach.
  • Digital publisher Os&1s is offering self-published authors and independent presses an unsurpassed deal, with 80% of profits going to the writers (something even more impressive than is offered to print writers, let alone ebook authors).
  • RedShelf, an etextbook startup, now has agreements with all five of the largest academic publishers to use a single distribution platform for their 150,000-plus ebooks and etextbooks, and it is working with more than 150 university bookstore partners.
  • Newspaper Club, a British startup, is exploring the development of self-published newspapers and is working with Contributoria, a network for independent journalists that allows for collaborative news coverage of events that otherwise might exist below the daily news radar.
  • Advance Editions is a new crowdsourced editing venture: “We draw on the experience, knowledge and inspiration of readers worldwide to make good books better. Our comprehensively edited books are made available to early readers a few months ahead of final publication. During this time, you can give feedback to the authors and suggest ways to refine their books. You may spot errors, bring unique expertise or come up with new ideas.”
  • HarperCollins Publishers is in an ebook partnership with JetBlue that allows excerpts of its titles to be available in-flight to airline passengers for reading; this option is currently offered on 35% of JetBlue’s fleet.
  • A 9th-grade Miami student published a series of free, award-winning books for kids age 3–7 that include 3D pictures, video, and interactive play. Not bad for a 15-year-old.
  • The enhanced ebooks concept isn’t dead yet. Various recently published musicians’ memoirs include multimedia features, but the concept is yet to be realized as some content is at an added cost to readers, and there are platform limitations and other issues. These problems point to a future that seems still far off.

Reality Bites?

Americans with Disabilities Act-mandated access to books and other materials still needs attention. The ongoing demand for audiobooks is clearly one effort that’s needed until publishers come up with better systems that meet these mandates. This issue is huge for any institution getting federal support, which means all libraries and schools.

Esteemed industry consultant Mike Shatzkin recently blogged about 2014 as the “end of a year, and perhaps the end of a stage of the ebook transition.” Shatzkin sees the rise of indie authors—the number of whom has grown enormously in the past few years, as shown by this Smashwords graph—as a serious issue of supply and demand.

“What a long list of indie authors has proven in the years since Kindle was invented is that there is a substantial market willing to try storytelling from unknown writers if it is offered at a relatively low price,” Shatzkin writes. “As a result of that and of Amazon—joined by all the other ebook platforms and a legion of service-providers like Bob Mayer—making it relatively easy to ‘publish’ a manuscript, many tens of thousands of authors have published hundreds of thousands of ebooks that way. What is now being proven is that market is not infinitely elastic. Most of the data we see suggest that ebook sales growth has stopped. … Ever-growing supply and stable demand is a toxic formula for the prospects of each successive ebook published for that market. My own hunch is that Kindle Unlimited is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.” As any information professional knows, quality trumps quantity any day.

The late engineer Roy Amara said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” In the case of ebooks, perhaps the issue has been too much focus on ebooks outside of the more pervasive transformations taking place in information, ownership, privacy, and power. 2015 should be another interesting year as these forces and issues come to the forefront.

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Nancy K. Herther is a research consultant and writer who recently retired from a 30-year career in academic libraries.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Neeraj Varma2/20/2015 6:09:48 PM

In my collection I have several categories of books. For books that I expect to use as a reference, I prefer hard-cover books. If I know a novel is good, then, again, I will prefer to have a hard-cover book. On the other hand, if I am studying for a specific purpose, I may not have the time to go to a store or order a physical book online - in this case I'll buy an e-book or a Kindle edition. A lot of my books end up being e-books. On the other hand the books I treasure the most are my physical books. I have found it hard to get attached to an e-book.

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