Déjà Vu and Et Cetera
by Dick Kaser
It was as if time had stood still and progress had ground to a halt for the past 2 years.
When I returned to the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall for the first time since 2008, I arrived fully aware of the great irony of my assignment. In 2008, I had attended the “largest” meeting of publishers in Germany to cover the hottest topic on the block: how ebooks were poised to skyrocket.
As I made my way across the city to the book fair, it all seemed very reminiscent to me. After all, I was coming back to cover the very same story in 2010.
I waited until I finished my rounds on the fair floor, visiting exhibitors and interviewing execs, to review the coverage that I provided 2 years ago for Computers in Libraries magazine (January 2009). Honestly, except for a few changes to some charts (some ebook providers have merged in the intervening 2 years, and all collections have grown), what I wrote in 2008 pretty much still stands verbatim.
Publishers and libraries are still very interested in ebooks, titles in all fields are still on the rise (aided greatly by the 2007 adoption of the EPUB standard, which is now the de facto basis for pushing titles out to devices of all kinds), and various acquisition models are in place to encourage ebook collection development in all kinds of libraries.
All eyes are still focused on the growth curve and the rising percentage of the book business that has gone to this digital form.
David Bowers of Oxford University Press summed up the changes that took place from 2008 to 2010 neatly during an interview when he said: “In 2008 the ebook industry in America generated roughly $110 million. Last year that figure rose to somewhere in the range of $300 million. Through June or July, sales are about 190% higher this year than last. So the ebook business in America will be around $500 million this year. The US publishing industry is $30 billion, so ebooks might become 5%.”
Some of the people I spoke with put the number of ebook sales as high as 8% to 10% of the total this year, but it’s clear that to focus on ebooks is to miss 90% (give or take a percentage point) of what’s happening with publishing and information services.
Today, just as 2 years ago, the topic of ebooks still generates excitement and even hoopla. But in most cases, the publishing executives I spoke with were more interested in telling me how their companies have repositioned in the last 2 years in order to handle ebooks and to respond to market demands for digital content in all forms.
Some levels of this e-demand clearly reflect the challenging economic pressures. But user demand is driving some of the ongoing transition from print to digital resources, and a re-evaluation of organizational missions has also contributed to the doldrums from the last 2 years.
Ironically, my story in 2008 and my observations this year include the same twist. In addition to e-stuff, there’s still also a great deal of excitement around the topic of on-demand and custom printing. The more things change …
For consumers, statistics released by Amazon this past summer imply the same thing. While sales of digital products may be on the rise, the digital products aren’t replacing print. In fact, some may actually drive print sales.
So, though I may have gone to Frankfurt this year in search of the new “ebook story,” I came back with more or less the same story I shared with you 2 years ago.
But you don’t have to take my word for this. Just check out what the publishing execs said in the feature I’ve written for this issue, beginning on page 1.