I do not envy the plight of the book publishers in the new world of ebooks.
The Problem – New Technology is Changing the Market
Book publishers are being pulled in all directions as they struggle to come to grips with the new reality of publishing electronic books for tablets, smart phones and ereaders.
The Current Situation - Stagnation
Publishers are, for the most part, taking a wait and see attitude. They are waiting for the market to show them where the sales will be so they can decide in which direction to move
My Recommendation – Get out ahead and lead the market
Instead of letting technology startups and self-publishers drive the market, get out ahead, drive technology adoption, try new directions, set trends, take chances, be a market maker instead of a follower. It is not always easy to adapt once the new market is set.
- eBook sales surpassed hard cover sales in North America for the first time ever last summer (link here), so the push is to produce ebooks
- demand from the consumer for ebooks is increasing
- eBooks are currently selling for about half the price of a comparable hard cover
- profit margins are lower on ebooks than on hardcover or paperback books (link here), so there is no incentive to produce ebooks
- publishers are starting to merge to stay competitive, increasing their back catalogue of books while reducing the staff and overhead required to produce them (link here)
- by staying with print the publishers will ride their nice profit margins right down to zero revenue
Print book publishers have is easy compared to text book and children’s (illustrated) book publishers.
Even as publishers struggle to keep the price of ebooks high they are being attacked from the side by developers who want to turn children’s books into interactive apps and reduce “book” prices even further (for example an iBooks version of a children’s book will sell for $6 where the app version of the same book might sell for $2).
Illustrated book publishers are playing with two scenarios, neither of which seems very palatable…
1. Create an interactive version of the book for iPad or other tablet, spend $30K on developing the app, sell it for $1.99, spend an additional 30% on marketing ($40K total), sell 30K copies (which is considered successful in todays market), make revenues of $30K and loss money on the venture.
2. Create a flat digital copy of the book, spend $2K on creation, sell it for $5, don’t market it at all, sell 1000 copies and break even on the venture.
Publishers are doing better volume on the apps but they are still at risk to lose money. The lure, however, remains, the possibility of being successful and having a break away success, but this is a false hope.
The volumes on apps are higher because they are cheaper and more interactive. They are a better product and more compelling for parents as they offer more to the child, as long as they don’t look like games (good lord don’t make it look like a game).
This is really just economics 101…
LOWER PRICE = HIGHER VOLUME
And hopefully the volume increase is higher than the price drop so your total revenue increases, as long as your production costs stay the same, but in the case of ebooks and apps this is not the reality.
The price of higher sales in the interactive book market is higher production costs with no guarantee that the sales will follow leading to the current situation where a very low number of books are being converted into digital form (and they are usually the guaranteed successful ones like Dr. Seuss) and a market that is crying out for more interactive books.
The new ebook standard, which is partially supported by most ereaders (with full support promised soon), is capable of displaying interactive books (textbooks, cookbooks, children’s books etc) inside traditional ereaders without the need resort to creating an app. The only problem with ePub3 (other than partial support) is that there are few or no tools to author books (Apple has created iBooks Author, which supports a subset of ePub3 functionality for creating textbooks, but can only display inside iBooks).
Here is a ePub3 children’s book that I created that shows the power of ePub3 (demo book). Download it and open in iBooks and you will see a fully interactive children’s book, created using Skyreader’s Studio ebook authoring tool (creating ebooks at a cost least than 20% of traditional interactive apps).
If publishers want to make the ebook market successful ePub3 is where they should focus their time, effort and promotional expenses.
They should be market makers, not market followers.