Ebooks to kill the publishing industry? Yeah, right…

In Publishing Frontier, Joseph J Esposito predicts that ebooks are going to kill publishing. What a crock – this uneducated opinion piece really doesn’t deserve discussion but I’m sure much discussion will ensue anyway.

Esposito makes the absurd claim that (unlike paper books) ebooks are a “just in time” proposition. Oops. My ebook readers (note the plural) are full of unread books that I have loaded onto them for future reading – unlike my bookshelves which generally contain books I bought and read immediately. The exception for my book shelves are books purchased at book fairs, which I somehow think falls outside Esposito’s area of interest.

Esposito’s views are somewhat similar to those prevailing at one time or another in most other media industries move to digital formats, and I think it is a result of lack of familiarity with the new product. Or, to put it bluntly – he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Esposito’s other points relate to the browsing and social aspect of book buying, and here he likewise misses the point. Instead of just putting the customer in a room full of books and letting them browse by themselves as happens in paper bookshops, or receive recommendations from a few close friends, the new media almost requires that sellers and publishers get involved in making social aspects of browsing happen; allow others worldwide to easily rate, recommend and review books online and in public. This might be new to them and they might not like it, but that’s what they’ll have to do to be successful.

Esposito conveniently forgets to mention that a recommendation to read a paper book by a friend often involves lending or passing their copy of the book on – it doesn’t often result in a new sale. He also seems to be saying that to survive, the publishing industry needs to continue to sell a product that purchasers don’t necessarily use – he thinks people buy books just to shelve them and not always read them. What a business model! What a great relationship to have with your customers.

And finally, online ebook sales, by their very nature allow individual pricing and discounts, and short duration promotions and rebates in ways that paper book stores can only dream about. They can be intimately connected to their customers by email. RSS and web sites, know their purchasing history and preferences, and can present compelling inducements to buy more books if they do this right.

Ebooks have about as much chance of killing publishing as videotapes had of killing Hollywood.

In fact, Motley Fool has an article that mentions some comments made by Bezos in a conference call – specifically:

The typical Kindle buyer winds up buying 60% more books in Kindle format than he or she used to buy in physical form through Amazon, yet those same folks continue to buy physical books as well, at pre-Kindle rates.

Of course, Kindle has the advantage of a relatively closed system, but if Amazon can do this, why can’t others? There’s no point bleating about ebooks killing the publishing industry while doing nothing about it.

In my opinion, there is a threat to the publishing industry, but it isn’t ebooks – it is Amazon, closed ebook formats and market fragmentation.

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