Will the Kindle and iPad be the Downfall of Online Bookselling?

Is Kindle Going to Kill Us?

It’s been a year since Amazon first reported earnings in which book sales were flat, but Kindles were in such demand that stocks were empty and back-orders were stretching into the tens of thousands. Since then, we’ve seen Kindle mature into a stable platform, Sony offer a competing digital reader, the much-ballyhooed arrival of the iPad, and a slew of imitators that also provide digital book-reading capability. Sales of electronic books are accelerating, and the obvious question is, what does the future hold for online booksellers?

Pricing Pressures
I have not noticed any slack in demand yet, but I have felt the need to be more competitive in setting prices. Most of my business is done on Amazon, where the Kindle version of a book is generally priced a few dollars lower than the book version… and in some cases, lower than the used book price. So far, the adjustment needed to bring a used book below the Kindle price is minor (usually less than a dollar), but we all know how those adjustments can add up over time.

The hidden cost is that tracking Kindle prices means more work for me. We are in need of new tools to catch up – many of the inventory and price-check apps do not include Kindle price listings, but the time has come that they should.

Vulnerable Categories
Certain categories of books look to be more vulnerable to difficulty for online booksellers. Mainstream fiction, which comprises the bulk of electronic book sales, could become a used book ghost town – it’s way easier to download that summer beach book than it is to order it, wait for it to arrive, and then have it sitting around when you’re done with it.

I recently heard from a teacher friend that the textbook publishing companies are very enthusiastic about entering the e-book arena – it eliminates their publishing costs, and provides advantages to students who are tired of lugging around ten-pound books. Obviously, for those of us in the used textbook market, this is not a good thing!

What Won’t Change
I don’t think there will ever be such a thing as a ‘collectible’ e-book, at least not in the way that we know the term. So books that are valuable due to their age, scarcity, enduring popularity, because they are autographed, etc., are not going to suffer at all. They might even gain in value further, as the idea of real books becomes more quaint.

I think we’re still a couple of years away from seeing e-books have any real impact on used bookselling. For most readers, the pleasure of reading a book remains in holding it, turning the pages, and having an actual book! I don’t think the older two or three generations of Americans – still the most enthusiastic readers – will ever embrace e-books as a replacement for the real thing.

Bottom-line: In the short term, most of us online booksellers are not going to notice an impact from Kindle, iPad, and the other electronic reading devices. But these devices are not going away – over time, as the technology develops and the number of titles proliferates, their effect will be noticeable, particularly in the fiction and textbook sectors.

Adam Bertram

Interested in selling books online? Please visit my blog, which includes helpful articles, proven online bookselling techniques, and daily updates with new tips and tricks of the trade.

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  • Kindle, Ipad and even Nook are going to impact sales and online sales of traditional books somewhat. I don’t think they will kill those retailers though. You don’t need electricity to read a paperback (at least not in the daytime). Your paperback will never break on you. You can drop a paperback without smashing it. Those are just a few of the reasons.

    I think it will impact the industry kind of like the internet has impacted the telephone yellow pages. The yellow pages have suffered a major loss in usage, but they still have their place.

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  • I also think that for a dedicated reader who might read 12 or more books a year an ebook reader might make economic sense but an occasional reader of books isn’t going to want to make that big an upfront investment
    My mother says the ereader might be the new knitting machine which makes sense in a way -knitting being a leisure activity that lost a certain something when it was mechanised

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  • I know there are some small publishers now that use ebooks as a way of sampling the market for an author or given title. They’ll publish first as an e-book and then upgrade to the hard copy if its warranted. Oftentimes they’ll toss in a bonus bit to make the hard copy worth buying, like a short story, additional chapter, etc. This is handy for both ends of the equation as it lets more unknown authors gets tested without the publisher sinking a lot of cash into it. (and potentially fix complaints or errors with the first version!) This means you can get more writers in, writing for increasingly specific niches.

    The downside here is that it cuts into the share of megahits, so it becomes harder and harder to have megablockbusters in hardcover. The download sales will cannibalize the hardcover sales which in turn increases returns and takes another bite out of it.

    magazines have been facing this issue for awhile. One of my favorites, Mother Jones, gets around the online cannibalism issue by printing the hard copy of the magazine FIRST, then slowly rolling out the content online over the course of two months. Eventually its widely available, but if you want the whole thing, you get first access in hardcopy and there’s a protected period where the hardcopy is the ONLY source.

    Large fiction publishers may need to do something similar where there’s a limited availability of the download for when they AREN’T producing a hard copy, or in between switching from hardcover to paperback, etc.

    There’s certainly business models where you can have both operating but they’re currently not meshing well. But overall the giant print runs of megablockbusters are probably going to get smaller and sell at lower prices. Midrange books can probably hold, Rare books will go up.

    (the book The Long Tail deal well of this issue of shifting demand and increased access to more niche products flattens out blockbusters but overall bumps media sales. it’s just a different game selling 1 copy of 100 different books than 100 copies of 1 book)

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  • When I see as many people on the bus reading an ereading device as reading ‘real’ books, I’ll believe the hype.

    Will that happen, I wonder.

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  • Apple has finally updated the iBooks app. New iBooks 1.1 is now suitable not only for iPad, but for iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod touch 2G and iPod touch 3G as well. Due to this Amazon was forced to drop prices on Amazon Kindle 2 electronic book reader – now it costs $189. Barnes & Noble cut the Nook price on $50 as well, now Wi-Fi version will cost $ 149, and 3G + Wi-Fi – $ 199.

  • […] I get back will always be something along the lines of “that’s all well and good…but what about e-books?” EBooks are a paradigm shift in the book industry. They have been around for years, but have […]

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