The Outlook for E-Books
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

The Outlook for E-Books

Here's a wonderful post on the future of e-books, courtesy of Joe Konrath.



The argument du jour seems to be that if publishers do collapse, then all the current bestsellers will have their ebooks available for $4.99 or less, and that will be the end of self-publishing. I've blogged about an
eventual bestseller shift, which we can argue is happening, has happened, or will happen, depending on which stats you want to support.
But now I think it's time to put them together, as well as do some Q&A.

1. Ebook sales aren't a zero sum game. A sale of one ebook doesn't preclude the sale of another, because this is a burgeoning global market with hundreds of new customers introduced daily, and people naturally horde more than they need.

Let's say there are currently 100 million ebook readers, and 1 million ebook titles on Amazon. In ten years, there will be billions of ebook readers (following the path of mp3s). But there won't be a corresponding 100 million ebook titles available--there aren't that many people writing ebooks, and never will be.

If I can currently sell a few hundred ebooks a day in the US alone, what will happen when ebooks become popular in India, China, Japan, Europe, Russian, and South America? There will be a bigger demand than unique supply, and I believe my position will improve.

2. Legacy bestsellers now may not be bestsellers in the future.

If all Lee Child ebooks were $3.99, an avid reader could buy and finish them all in a month. Then what? Wait six months for him to finish another, and not read a thing until then? I think not.

Let's say the reader then went on to other bestselling thriller writers in the same vein as Child. How many current NYT bestsellers write series thrillers? I have no idea, but I'd guess a few dozen, tops. But does likign Child mean liking all NYT thriller bestsellers? I'm sure there are readers who love Child but don't like Brad Thor or Vince Flynn, but even if all an avid reader read was bestselling thriller authors who did a book or two a year, they would eventually run out of books to read.
BTW, I know a few avid readers. They lust for more authors to discover, and get excited when they read an unknown gem and find out that author has twenty more books in the series. I'm one of those types. I've read all Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, and still managed to find new gems by Jeff Shelby, Brett Battles, Harry Hunsicker, and Jude Hardin, written in the same vein and style.

If bestsellers like Child and Thor came down in price, it wouldn't matter to me much, because I already have read all of Child and I don't care for Thor. But if Child were $3.99 instead of $12.99, I can easily see myself buying his latest AND a few others. The money I'd save would be spent just the same.

Ever go into a store to buy a big ticket item, expecting to may more than you did? Let's say you research an over and find it for $699. When you go to the store, it is on sale for $499. And they also have a great toaster oven for $99. You probably wouldn't have bought the toaster oven originally, but now that you're saving money on the oven, the toaster oven becomes attractive.

If all ebook prices came down, more ebooks would be sold across the board.

3. The reason bestselling authors are bestselling authors is because of distribution. Nora Roberts is available EVERYWHERE books are sold. So, by default, she sells a lot, because readers wanting that particular type of book have no other choice--they buy her, or nothing.

When publishers collapse, Nora will have the exact same amount of shelf space and exposure as any indie author. Sure, there will be some name and brand recognition for a while, but that will fade when not being constantly reinforced by massive print distribution.

It also remains to be seen how Nora will price her ebooks when her publisher goes bankrupt. Will she stay at the $9.99 price point she's selling at now? If so, I predict fewer sales. If she does price reasonably, then the reader with $9.99 to spend can buy one of her ebooks and one of my ebooks with change left over.

The market is getting bigger. People with ereaders tend to buy and read more. And authors can make a very nice living selling 100 ebooks a day for $2.99 each. Across multiple platforms, on a global scale, I see this as not only possible, but likely for decent, prolific authors.

And as far as bestsellers go, they tend to fade when distribution changes or dries up.
  • Mickey Spillane (whose books I love) has sold over 225 million books. Check his Kindle ranking now, only six years after his death. Lots of indies are outselling him. Even though Al Collins is doing a great job continuing the Mike Hammer series. 
  • Check ranks on some Louis L'Amour titles. He sold over 300 million books. Mediocre kindle sales.
  • Sidney Sheldon has sold more than Stephen King. Look at Sidney's rankings on Amazon these days. He also is still producing books after his death, via ghost writers, but he's nowhere near the powerhouse he once was.
  • Harold Robbins has sold 750 million books. More than twice JK Rowling. And many of his Kindle titles are less than $2.99. Check his rankings. Mine are better in many cases. One of the best selling authors of all time, but he isn't in the paperback racks anymore, and that means no more bestsellerdom.

4. There is already a tremendous abundance of choice, not only with media in general, but ebooks in particular. I believe Amazon has over 1 million Kindle titles for sale. Yet people still find me, and I was hardly a bestseller in print.
If bestselling authors all dropped their prices, I believe I'd sell more ebooks, not less, because more people would buy ereaders and have more money to spend on content. There's enough room for 300 cable TV channels, and four billion videos on Youtube.

Sure, some YouTube videos won't be watched, just like some ebooks won't be read. But quality does seem to eventually find an audience. Maybe not to smashing success, but authors don't need smashing success. They need 100 sales a day at $2.99 to live very well.


I'll bring  you the second half of this article tomorrow.
To read the entire post right now, go here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/07/zero-sum.html