There is no doubt that the Internet has had a big impact on not only how we buy things but what is available to buy. The global aspect of the Internet makes it possible to produce products that only a small percentage of the population in any geographic region is interested in purchasing. We see this in many areas that are not related to books and in many ways that are related to books. With the advent of the Internet manufacturers of everything from electronics to 7x men’s shirts found it profitable to produce items that wouldn’t have been profitable to produce when we were buying things primarily from our local shops. There would probably not be enough men who wear size 7x in a rural town in Mississippi for a shopkeeper to stock many if any size 7x shirts.
Because manufacturers didn’t have a ready market for size 7x shirts not many manufacturers manufactured size 7x shirts. However, with the advent of the Internet the market for size 7x shirts and very narrow shoes moved from thousands of small shopkeepers in thousands of towns and cities to the global Internet where someone looking for size 7x shirts or very narrow shoes could simply type what they were looking for into the browser and find many sites specializing in extra-large clothes or very small shoes.
What the Internet did was move more of the purchasing decisions out of the hands of small local shopkeepers and into the hands of consumers who are no longer limited by geography. What this does is create a massive center of commerce where manufacturers and retailers offer goods for sale and where consumers go to find them.
The result is that all of us have a lot more choices about what we are going to buy and who we are going to buy it from.
What’s happened with digital books (ebooks) takes this even a step further.
If we decide we are going to buy an extra-large shirt or a pair of extra narrow shoes from a merchant on line we have to find the shirt or shoes, place our order, wait for someone in a warehouse somewhere to receive the order, package the shoes or shirt and ship them to us. We then have to wait for the mailman or the UPS driver or FedEx to bring them to us. We trade greater choice in the realm of Internet purchases for the convenience of purchasing locally and having the use of the purchase immediately with most kinds of tangible goods.
Items like ebooks, audios, some movies, and software have moved beyond the trade-off between having a broader range of choices in the products and having the use of the purchased item immediately. In the case of items like ebooks, audios, movies and software it is actually easier AND faster to purchase the products online. In most cases purchasing online results in the purchaser having the use of the purchased product more quickly and more conveniently than if they had gone to a local merchant to purchase it.
This has created a lot of pressure on publishers and retailers who still publish and sell traditional paper books. There are still a lot of publishers publishing paper books and there are still a lot of retailers selling paper books and there are still a lot of readers who prefer paper books but the number of people who are opting to purchase ebooks rather than paper books is growing in triple digit percentages year after year. Amazon announced recently that their ebook (Kindle) sales had outpaced hard back sales by a margin of about 1.8 ebooks for every hard back book sold.
Barnes & Noble stated recently that its share of the digital book market is bigger than its share of the print market.
I believe that those of us in the publishing industry can sometimes fall prey to the notion that our industry is different than other industries, that we are not influenced by the same societal changes that are impacting other industries. I believe this is a foolish notion.
It seems obvious to me that change has occurred in how we purchase things…red sweaters, extra large shirts, and extra narrow shoes as well as a whole host of other things. The same things that have impacted how we purchase those things have impacted how we purchase books.
Digital books (ebooks) however represent a new front. Unlike the paper books we buy from Amazon and have to wait to arrive in our mailboxes, ebooks are ordered and transferred to our computers or our ebook readers immediately. This makes buying ebooks more convenient rather than less convenient, which is different than with other tangible goods. This perhaps explains why the sales of ebooks and ebook readers continue to grow by leaps and bounds while paper book sales struggle to remain flat.
The fact that ebooks are accounting for an ever increasing share of total book sales, and that the cost of producing ebooks is much less than producing paper books makes huge differences in terms of what it is actually financially feasible to publish. We will discuss the feasibility factors of book publishing and how that impacts what ebook publishers vs. paper publishers are able to publish in tomorrow’s lesson.