Can E-Book Sales Bubble Burst?

If you’ve been reading our monthly postings of e-book retail sales bulletins provided by the International Digital Publishing Forum, you are aware that as the numbers doubled, then tripled, and most recently quadrupled those of the prior year, the stridency of our prose has progressed deeper and deeper into the purple spectrum.  Right  now we’re tapping into our reserves of hysteria and if the curve gets much steeper we will have to be forcibly restrained. By the opposite token, if the curve flattens even a little we may climb out on a ledge – we’re that spoiled by unmitigated good news.

Will the joyride ever end?  Digital pundit Mike Shatzkin has dared to ask the question.

Though he says “Your guess is as good as mine,” in fact Mike Shatzkin’s guesses are far better than ours.  But he reminds us of the fundamental truth that nothing lasts forever.  There has to be a saturation point.  But what is it, when will it come, and what factors will make it happen?

The prospect for the near future looks rosy, in good measure because there are so many new platforms and devices coming on stream such as Copia, Blio, Apple’s iPad, Google Editions and a clutch of e-book readers with new features including color, larger screens, and touchscreen capability.  And we know that Amazon will counter competition with a host of Kindle upgrades and improvements.  So, says Shatzkin, the next year will see a continuation of robust retail growth which he puts “conservatively” at 3.5%. That means that “the e-book minimum expectation by next Christmas would be between 15 and 20 percent of the sales of a new title.” Then what?

“And then,” says Shatzkin, “it can’t really continue the same growth rate the following year because that would take us to a great majority of books read being e-books. And I don’t think you’ll find anybody expecting 60% or more e-book penetration in two years.” The saturation point? “It won’t start slowing down until e-book sales are 20-25% of what a publisher expects on a new title.”

He expects that topping-out moment at the end of 2012.

Read Ebook growth continues to accelerate; how long can this go on? and decide if your own guess is as good as Mike Shatzkin’s.

Richard Curtis


3 Responses to Can E-Book Sales Bubble Burst?

  1. Steve Boyett says:

    I find it interesting that audiobook production is undergoing a similar acceleration. This time last year audiobook recording studios were looking at the future with a great deal of worry and uncertainty. Now they’re swamped, and major-length works of 20 hours or more are becoming the standard, where before a long audiobook was an unabridged 10- to 12-hour set.

    I wonder if there is any connection here. I’m thinking that the same devices — iPhone, iPod, iTouch, iPad (gee, is there a common thread there?) — are driving sales across media.

  2. Digital technology has been liberating for every art form that was constrained by physical limitations. Audio used to be limited by the cost of producing and boxing CDs. Now streaming makes that distinction meaningless. Books? When it comes to uploading a text fie, a two pound tome weighs as much as a short-short.

  3. Steve Boyett says:

    [Digital technology has been liberating for every art form that was constrained by physical limitations. ]

    Including acting. :)

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