E-books have gone Mainstream

Day by day the evidence is mounting – digital books and e-readers are here to stay and in some markets like the US they have already gone mainstream.

The organizers of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction are among those wising up to the reality that e-books have become a fact of life, and we all might as well get used to it.

This year they asked publishers to submit their 2011 book entries in both electronic and print format for consideration by the judges.

The judges, in turn, will be issued with e-readers to help make it easier to plod through the over 100 titles they are expected to receive this year. They’ll still be able to request hard copies of the books if they prefer.  Last year they read 138 books before handing the prize for fiction to Howard Jacobson for his novel The Finkler Question.

Further, the Man Booker Prize entry requirements stipulate: “All shortlisted books will be made available by publishers as e-books within two weeks of the shortlist announcement. Extracts from the e-books should be freely accessible for downloads.”

Author, publisher and reviewer, Susan Hill who is also a member of the judging panel tweeted: “We are to be given Kindles for Booker judging so they won’t have to post us tons of real books.”

No doubt this is music to the ears of Amazon’s Kindle Team. This move by the Man Booker Prize organizers is also perfect timing for the online giant.

At a conference call held last week to announce its fourth-quarter results, Amazon said that for every 100 paperbacks it has sold since the beginning of the year (2011), the company has sold 115 Kindle books. During the same period, Amazon claims to have sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across its entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition.  Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher, the statement adds.

“Thanks to our customers, we achieved two big milestones,” said Amazon CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos. “We had our first $10 billion quarter, and after selling millions of third-generation Kindles with the new Pearl e-ink display during the quarter, Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on Amazon.com … this milestone has come even sooner than we expected – and it’s on top of continued growth in paperback sales.”

Some remain sceptical of the rosy picture Amazon is painting of the Kindle and are wondering aloud if it’s really as profitable as the company seems to suggest.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal blog, Dan Gallagher notes, “… the revenue boost may not be flowing to Amazon’s bottom line; in fact, it may even be weighing it down. For one, it looks likely that Amazon makes little to no money on the device itself. A study by market-research firm iSuppli last year estimated the total cost of materials for the 3G Kindle at $155.56 – about $33 less than the $189 selling price for the device. Since iSuppli’s estimates do not include the cost of software, licensing, royalties, manufacturing expenses (Amazon outsources production of the Kindle) and a cut for the wireless carriers, analysts suspect Amazon likely sells the Kindle at a slight loss.”

Far from being daunted or distracted by the sceptics, Amazon continues to push the Kindle as the mass market alternative with “810,000 books including new releases and 107 of 112 New York Times bestsellers” at what it claims are the lowest prices.

What’s more, immediately following the launch of the Google eBookstore, Amazon unveiled Kindle for the Web, an app that allows users to read and sample e-books via Web browsers without having to download software and install apps on a computer or e-reading device.

Still in beta stage, the aim of Kindle for the Web is to allow bookstores, authors, retailers, bloggers and other website owners to offer Kindle books from their websites, and earn affiliate fees for doing so. As one Amazon representative noted, it enable users to “read full books in the browser and [enables] any Website to become a bookstore offering Kindle books.” You can also use it to embed Kindle chapters on your personal blog or website and share them with friends via email, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. By so doing you can also earn referral fees on sales.

Meanwhile, the Association of American Publishers’ continues to furnish proof that e-books are becoming increasingly popular in the US and rapidly gaining market share.

E-book sales in the US for November 2010 rose 129.7%, to $46.6 million, based on data submitted by the 14 publishers who report results to the AAP’s monthly sales report.

Indications are e-books and downloadable audio books will be the only trade segments to post gains in 2010 with sales down in all the print segments reported by the 14 publishers.

Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker made some thought-provoking predictions for 2011. Among other things, he foresees the meteoric rise in e-book sales and revenues this year.

“Ebook sales will approach 20% of trade book revenues on a monthly basis by the end of 2011 in the US, yet the bigger surprise is that ebooks will account for one third or more of unit consumption. Why? Ebooks cost less and early ebook adopters read more.”

He adds: “Agents serving the economic best interests of the best-selling authors, will bring new credibility to self publishing by encouraging authors to proactively bypass publishers and work directly with ebook distribution platforms. Agents will use these publishing platforms for negotiating leverage against large publishers. The conversation will go something like this: “You’re offering my author only 15-20% list on ebooks when I can get them 60-70% list working direct with an ebook distributor like Smashwords or a retailer like Amazon?”

Read more of Mark Coker’s predictions.

One response to “E-books have gone Mainstream

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention E-books have gone Mainstream « Caribbean Book Blog -- Topsy.com·

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