Emphasis on Ebooks

Along with some colleagues I attended the O’Reilly Emphasis on Ebooks online conference today. It’s part of the ongoing O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

In Research we’re investing significant time over the next several months to thinking about services built around books and how those services will change as the migration from physical to ebooks progresses. This half-day conference seemed relevant.

It had three panels organized around

Ebook Pricing: Is $9.99 the new price for ebooks? How can publishers add value and increase margins with ebooks?
What Do Readers Want? How are readers responding to ebooks and the plethora of new devices? What do they think of our efforts to date?
The Future of Electronic Reading: Ebooks, Ereaders, and Beyond: This presentation will cover the current state of the art in eBooks and eReaders – discussing the technologies currently at play and those coming in the near future.”

The first panelists were the most interesting. They included the founders or CEOs from Scribd, Lexcycle (the folks who produce the Stanza ereader), Bookoven and Librivox. Innovators and successful early pioneers. Here’s some of the things they said.

I can’t attribute these remarks to the specific individuals given the limitations of Webex conferencing and the rapid-fire talk that was going on.

All the stuff you can’t do with an ebook can explain the price difference – sell it, lend it, annotate etc. Take a dollar off for every one of those and you get to $10 from 15.

What’s the range of opportunity that e provides that’s unavailable in print? We don’t know what that richer object is yet.

What’s really wanted is the ‘everything’ edition. You get all the formats including print for a small increment. And what constitutes the ‘everything’ edition will take shape by audience and segment and genre which will lead to differential pricing even for the ‘everything’ edition.

Offering new free titles raises interest across the entire list of a publisher. (An old public domain offering doesn’t do it). What’s the conversion after the free title? Lots of consumers think e is a platform for consuming free content and don’t go any further. [The speaker referred to these consumers as Freegans – a designation I’ll use in the future.]

Analysis is being done to gauge what free offerings have the biggest conversion from free – a toc, chapter, random pages, stuff chosen by author, etc. What’s the sampling strategy? Those publishers and titles not under stringent rights regimes have the ability to experiment with this which is leading publishers to ask for broader rights for choice of free sample choices.

Free isn’t always good – the act of paying changes the nature of the relation between the consumer, object and provider. It can increase engagement.

Scarcity of time and attention means that the ebook fits into smaller and smaller time slices. The act of reading can follow you around (the books chase you because of all their formats)

What percentage of books are purchased that are not read? Any difference between print and e? Seems to be the same in print or e. Electronic does allow for extremely easy impulse purchasing.
Electronic also means you might find yourself returning to read a title that you had abandoned just because youhave your whole library with you all the time.

Consumers almost always want to buy the whole thing – the title. Chapters only work in very special circumstances like travel, repair guides, etc.

Will a market develop for used e-books? probably via differential pricing. You’ll get the ability to resell for a higher price.

The other two panels were unenlightening although the last speaker who discussed the various ereader technologies did end with an interesting analogy to an earlier technology introduction – the digital camera. I hadn’t considered that this might be the contour that ereaders will follow but we’re in the midst of the wars he pointed out over content, form, price and disruption.

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