The morning session at this year’s Digital Book 2011, the International Digital Publishing Forum’s annual conference, held in conjunction with BookExpo America, was highlighted by Kobo v-p Michael Tamblyn’s announcement of a new $130 e-ink touchscreen reading device coming from Kobo in June. The audience at the packed event was also treated to a smart and mildly contentious discussion between the panelists on the publishers’ round table—Dominique Raccah, Evan Schnittman, and Richard Nash—as they surveyed their own experiences grappling with the changes sweeping over an industry in transition to digital delivery.
But it should be no surprise that the scope of the morning sessions included the growth of e-book sales; the proliferation of devices to read them; enhanced e-books, apps; and the viability of placing advertising in them both. Copyright in the digital age, of course, and the parallel growth of self-publishing and the relevance of legacy book publishers in this new era were also discussed.
Tamblyn’s announcement of Kobo’s new device—a black and white e-ink touchscreen available at an unprecedented price point—was a vivid follow-up to a presentation he made surveying the recent explosive growth of e-book sales in general and the staying power of e-ink devices in particular. Tamblyn outlined five points that characterized “the year of the e-book,” and he was able to highlight his fourth point, “tablets haven’t killed e-ink,” by pointing to Kobo data that shows “e-ink consumers read more and buy more.” But the rest of his bullet points were just as important if not necessarily as surprising:
1. It’s all happening faster. In the last quarter, he said, e-book sales have been reported to be from 14% to 22% of revenue. (“People thought we were crazy to predict digital sales would be 5% to 10% in five years,” he said.)
2. Pricing has changed. Last year, he said, the $10 frontlist e-book was the top selling price point; while this year it’s the $7.99 and $8.99 price points, with e-books priced at $12.99 to $16.99 further down the sales charts in what he described as, “agencyland.” And he was quick to point to the rapid growth in a range of price points in the .99 cents to $3.99 range, pointing out, “Publishers are experimenting with dynamic pricing.”
3. Self-publishing is big. “Self-publishing is 7% of book sales worldwide,” he said, “and self-publishers don’t consider themselves self-publishers, they consider themselves publishers.”
With announcement of a new device, Kobo has also expanded its partnership with Borders. Under the new agreement, Borders will share in the profits of all Kobo e-content sales on devices sold at all retailers in the U.S. In addition, beginning June 1, Borders is moving its eBookstore and Borders app to Kobo and both will be Kobo branded. Also starting June 1, Borders will have a Kobo branded area in its store, to display their devices
The publishers round table featured a big publisher (Macmillan/Bloomsbury’s Schnittman); a midsize publisher (Sourcebooks’ Raccah); and a small indie press (Cursor/Red Lemonade’s Nash), offering perspectives on the growth of digital delivery from each particular viewpoint. And while Raccah and Schnittman tended to agree—although not on every issue—it should come as no surprise that Nash generally disagreed with them both.
Raccah cited market shares for different kinds of print books (adult trade, 42%; kids’ books, 25%) and said it seemed unlikely that e-books could overtake those figures; Schnittman seemed to agree. Nash acknowledged that he didn’t have “the data,” but urged the audience not to be swayed by “projections” aimed at a volatile, dynamic, and fast-changing e-book market that is also characterized by falling prices. And while Raccah and Schnittman both offered pessimistic assessments on the future of enhanced e-books (“We’ve essentially created enhanced DVDs and we can’t sell them,” Schnittman said) and even apps, Nash suggested that enhanced e-books were more about preserving high price points than adding value.
But Raccah wasn’t having it. “We didn’t do this to save pricing,” she said. “We did it to blow up the book as we know it. It’s exciting, but we still haven’t found a good mechanism to do it. We’re still working on it.”