james-mcquiveyAfter posting a blog entry last week about Forrester’s new five-year forecast for e-books, analyst James McQuivey has written a follow-up post responding to reader comments and to an interview by John Thompson of Cambridge University.

McQuivey holds that people seem to impart some kind of special mystical properties to paper books that cannot be replaced by electronic media—but the real arena in which the adoption battle will be fought is economic. As a matter of production costs vs. revenues, McQuivey posits, publishers will sooner or later begin making decisions based on e-books. Paper books will become a secondary consideration, in much the same way as CDs are a secondary consideration to the digital market now.

This isn’t because they want to make this change, it will be because the whole industry will find itself quite suddenly left with no alternative. Just as what happened in music, when the dominant retailers suddenly find their economic model drying up, they’ll cut shelf space (music did it in 2007 and again in 2008, resulting in 40% less shelf space at major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart not to mention the complete end of Tower Records before that). This will mean an automatic retraction in how many books are printed because publishers won’t get the massive bulk purchases they used to get for as many titles. It also means they won’t be able to give as many large advances. Meanwhile, authors won’t like that advances are going down, marketing spend is plummeting, and royalties are shrinking (especially now that 30% of the eBook price goes to the bookseller in most cases). Suddenly, self-publishing seems a real alternative for anybody with even a modest Twitter following, especially when Amazon is offering 70% of the retail price of eBooks — paid monthly, not twice annually.

People “love” books, McQuivey says, not for their essential papery-bookness, but because “they love the ideas that books convey and the feelings they get from reading books.” And these can be conveyed digitally, though how easily depends on the tastes of the individual reader. Some people already have reached that point and others will sooner or later. Even though, McQuivey admits, large numbers probably never will, he thinks enough will that the driving force behind the economics of publishing will sooner or later shift to pixels over paper.

(Found via Publishing Perspectives.)


  1. Perhaps with eBooks we begin to more nearly approximate the true market-value of written works. What we should not be paying for are over-valued royalty advances, raw materials and shelf space to the middle man. Let consumer demand dictate the price and distribution.

  2. Good points Mike. We need freedom for eRetailers to set their own price and the Publishing industry needs to restructure and rethink it’s whole royalty and commission calculation basis. They seem to be blindly sticking with old world structures despite the new world game they are now being forced to play.

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