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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

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September 20, 2011

How Many E-Books?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A quick bit of follow-up to yesterday's thought question on ebooks vs poverty:

Data from Publisher's Weekly and the site Galleycat show a huge jump (167%) in ebook sales in June as print book sales continue to slump:

In that month they estimate that ebook sales are within a few percentage points of hardcover sales, in dollars: $84.9 million for hardcovers and $80.2 million for ebooks. Trade and mass-market paperbacks together are still on top at $95.8 million combined, split about evenly. That means taken separately each of these categories is now below $45 million. Trade paperback sales were reported to be down 64%.

Analyses for why the sharp reversal has taken place are spotty. As we noted earlier, prices for ebooks have been forced sharply upward because of the switch to the agency model, but unit sales have continued to climb. There are also a couple of one-time events pushing on the trend: Borders closed, cutting into physical sales, and Harry Potter e-books are due to be released later this year, which everyone expects will cause a huge spike upward in those numbers.

On a related note, Paul Reynolds blogging for Consumer Reports sounded a typically negative note about the prospects for e-book subscriptions and open-ended rentals such as you can buy in the video realm. I agree with Reynolds: publishers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, if at all, into this business. Prior to that we'll see significant DRM-cracking and file sharing of ebooks, pretty much exactly recapitulating the story of digital music from 15 years ago because I'll bet you the book publishers have learned nothing from the Cartel's experiences and they are all very very afraid.

(hat/tip to Doug Pardee and Karl A. Hakkarainen for the pointers.)

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