Yes, ebooks are a disruptive force in book retail and publishing.
Yes, ebooks represent a new distribution model with many new benefits and advantages.
But: ebooks are not going to replace all books.
It’s been a little over a year since I last looked at the numbers:
Ebooks, predictions, math that lies. : 24 June 2011
Since then, another whole year of data is available, including both the holidays and the post holiday ebook binge associated with recipients filling newly-gifted gadgets with content.
Of course, this kind of analysis has certain limitations:
- The only data available to me are ebook sales as reported by the Association of American Publishers: so these correspond only to US ebook sales from established publishing houses and does not include self-published ebooks.
- Merely looking at a dollar sales figure (again, the only data available) glosses over the fact that ebooks are sold at lower price points: unit sales of books will be higher than the dollar figure might suggest
- My projection is not the only interpretation – but I’ve tried some other models and ebooks sure look like they’re following a fairly common sigmoid growth curve
- …however, if ebooks do not merely cannibalize sales of other formats but instead push books into new genres, new business models, new retail channels, and effectively blow up books as we know them: why sure, I guess there’s no upper limit & my projection is wrong. You can make any assumptions you like along those lines. My graph represents a fairly short future time frame (3-5 years out) and a relatively stable publishing industry. (Well, stable other than the disruption currently happening due to ebooks.)
Let’s look at the numbers anyway:
This graph is a little different from the one I posted last year, even though it looks similar. Growth is occuring more slowly than I assumed last year, so I had to “stretch” my graph a bit to fit. (Instead of a ten year overall time frame, this one is twelve years.) The other adjustment was more surprising: the estimate for where monthly ebook sales will eventually ‘top out’ and reach equilibrium went down by about $50 Million.
If the new projection is more accurate, we’ll see average monthly ebook sales of $250 Million rather than $300 Million – and we’ll hit the midpoint of the sigmoid curve before the end of the year.
This isn’t a tipping point in quite the way you think. Growth is still going to be quite dramatic through 2013 and 2014, and the data is messy enough that even as we approach equilibirum in mid-2015, it’s still going to look like growth.
But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.