Digital Books in 2008?

The London-based Bookseller’s Association has just released a report, Embracing the Digital Age, on the coming tide of digital books. It is short, non-technical, pithy, well-researched and free. It is possibly too sanguine about the potential for traditional bookseller involvement in the developing digital market. But the text points towards challenging opportunities for booksellers who can re-invent and re-position their business. The main authors (Francis Bennett and Michael Holdsworth, both experienced publishers rather than booksellers) clearly believe that the book trade is entering a transforming phase. Right now. But they acknowledge that it is not easy to produce firm evidence for the immediacy of change and opportunity:

We have been asked on a number of occasions to define the size of the digital market. How large will it be in two or five years’ time? Without such a figure, we know that some larger organisations may find it difficult to justify investment in digital processes. We have asked this question of experts in the UK and the USA, and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer. We are not surprised by this. (Embracing the Digital Age p 11.)

Another recent report, MarketIntelNow’s: ANWO eBooks survey suggests that the coming change may be closer and more radical than most publishers or booksellers suppose. This report costs $995, so I will probably not read it, but we can glean some of its findings from the excellent interview with Marie Campbell at the TeleRead blog. She thinks that the publishing market will boom with digital. The right environment will materialise soon, like almost now (her interview was just before the Kindle release). Demand is highly elastic, publishers will soon find this out and then prices will rapidly drop. (Digital prices) “may start around $10.00 each, but come down in the 2008-09 timeframe and approach $5.00.” As she puts it the publishing industry is “blessed with ELASTICITY”. She reckons that the $5.00 price is approaching the point of pain for publishers and at that stage advertising and sponsored books will take over. They will be big, but the gains in advertising will accrue to the biggest players — because only the biggest networks can monetise the clickstream (the free, but copyright, digital book market is where Google, Apple and Amazon will have the big literary fight — my guess).

If Marie Campbell has got her reasearch and her analysis right, the Christmas book market in 2009 will be disrupted by digital books. Digital books will be really happening then. So what do we do in 2008?