Electronic Books: A Major Publishing Revolution

By Hawkins, Donald T. | Online, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Electronic Books: A Major Publishing Revolution


Hawkins, Donald T., Online


In the short time since Part 1 of this series appeared ONLINE, July/August 2000), the electronic book (ebook) business has continued developing at a torrid pace. Part 1 presented a general overview and definition of ebooks, and described the various types of ebook products, their underlying technologies, and current work towards developing ebook standards. This article concludes our examination of ebooks by focusing on the marketplace, discussing the major players in the industry, and describing some significant market events that have occurred recently. It is noteworthy that many of the online bookstores like Amazon.com have begun to include ebooks in their offerings. However, they are generally not producers of ebooks, just distributors, so they are not covered in this article.

It is important here to first acknowledge the contribution to the subject of ebooks by Stephanie Ardito, whose review appeared in the April 2000 issue of Searcher. The fact that the two leading journals in the field of information science, ONLINE and Searcher, saw fit to devote significant space to ebooks, is clear evidence of their rapidly growing importance.

THE EBOOK MARKETPLACE

Because the ebook marketplace is in its infancy, estimates of its size vary widely and range up to 35,000 titles. (The majority of the titles available as ebooks are romances [1].) Microsoft has estimated that ebooks will generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues within three years. However, many ebooks currently sell in the $3 to $7 range, so this estimate seems unrealistically high. Judging from the number and size of organizations that are beginning to produce and sell ebooks or make alliances with ebook publishers, there seems to be a perception that the business has potential and is worth entering. In researching this article, it was also striking to notice how many players are jumping on the ebook bandwagon, even though few, if any, ventures are profitable yet, and little corresponding groundswell of demand from consumers has appeared.

A major key to success for ebook producers is how much value they can add to the publishing process and, especially, the reading experiences. In Part 1, the advantages and drawbacks of ebooks were discussed. As with full-text online databases, simply repurposing content to make it available on an ebook server will not guarantee a successful product. Publishers must add value and incorporate some of the unique advantages of ebooks in their products, or they will not succeed in the market. Adding value is especially difficult for novels that are generally read linearly; hyperlinks and searching capabilities, for example, are hardly needed.

It is also necessary to distinguish between ebook content and the appliances used to read them [2]. This is difficult because in the eyes of many users, the device is the ebook. Once ebook readers reach a steady state in their development evolution, it will likely be that the greatest profit potential for ebooks lies in selling the content rather than the reading devices--the "Gillette razor" approach to the market. We may see device reader manufacturers becoming subsidiaries of major ebook publishers.

MARKETPLACE PLAYERS

Companies in the ebook market include hardware developers producing ebook readers, Web site developers and maintainers who create downloadable ebook files, traditional book publishers who have begun to make some of their content available electronically, and special publishers whose entire business consists of ebooks. (The marketplace is moving so rapidly that any list of players quickly becomes outdated. Cost and other data in this article were correct as of mid-April 2000.) Contact data, URLs, and products for many of the players are listed in the table. Note that one seemingly obvious ebook URL, http://www.e-books.com, does not directly access any ebooks. It is simply a gateway to Amazon.com.

HARDWARE DEVELOPERS

NuovoMedia, Inc. …

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