Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Predicting the Online Change

‘Driven by growing popularity of online shopping, lure of discounts offered by retailers, faster delivery, free shipments, and the convenience offered by home shopping, the market for online books is projected to reach US$9.5 billion by 2010.’

So predicts the new "Online Books: A Global Strategic Business Report" published by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. The report which costs a cool $3950, reviews online trends and directions in markets such as the US, UK, Italy, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and interestingly refers to all books sold over the internet be they physical or digital. However, it says of the ebook that the ‘emerging ebook concept is a lucrative offshoot of the online book industry. The market segment is expected to catch consumer fancy, and exhibit strong growth patterns in the future.’
Online sales of consumer books are estimated at over US$4.2 billion in 2007 and academic and professional are forecast to generate sales worth about $3 billion in 2008.

Whether we believe the predictions or not it is clear that the purchasing of physical books over the Internet is increasing. The interesting question is at what point it will peak and plateau? Will it peak or continue to erode High Street sales? It is clear that all genre will plot their own path but that the lure of the virtual bookstore coupled with convenience and an increase in ‘search and look inside’ features make it harder to predict. There are now a small number of clear camps selling online; the clicks and mortar chains and bookstores who came late and are still suffering and the online only players who often don’t have the same inventory and cost overheads and are focused and include such as Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris, Books24X7 etc. Finally there are those who are merely acting as ‘white label’ stores and selling others stock on a drop ship basis such as the supermarkets.

Finally, ebooks remain in search of the Grail. Predicting their take up is like predicting climate change, we all know its happening but when, what and how are difficult to predict. What is certain is that publishers must generate the digital content if a market it to exist, merely talking about it and looking at ereaders in a content vacuum is not the answer.