Sometimes it can be fun to watch expert prognosticators go back and recount the mistakes they have made. Mike Shatzkin has a post like that, focusing on two predictions he made that, in retrospect, turned out not to be valid.
Shatzkin got into e-books at about the same time and in the same way I did: reading them on his Palm Pilot back in the late 1990s. He watched the first few waves of dedicated e-readers fail miserably, and concluded that people simply wouldn’t be interested in reading on a device too large to fit in a hip pocket. He expected the Kindle to be more of the same, but instead it proved successful enough to give the e-book market the jump start it had been needing.
His other mistake had to do with the idea that on-line communities would make natural marketplaces that businesses could target for sales—for example, that publishers could get into direct sales of e-books to their customers, rather than selling them through the various on-line stores. But the failure of OpenSky’s original business model, aimed at doing just that kind of direct-to-community selling, started to change his mind, and then he encountered this article suggesting that the philosophy behind J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site will lead to market fragmentation as people have to go to separate places to find the books they want. Rowling will probably sell fewer copies of the Harry Potter e-books through Pottermore than she would have through the on-line bookstores, Shatzkin posits, because it misses out on the people who would have snagged the books as low-hanging fruit from the on-line stores they were shopping already but can’t be bothered to go seek them out from someplace else.
Shatzkin does point out that there are some companies—F+W Media, Interweave, and O’Reilly are the examples he mentions—that successfully sell direct to on-line communities (he could have mentioned Baen, as well, but for some reason nobody ever does), but points out that they are all specialized cases that may not be applicable to publishers in general. (And I must admit that Baen, being a relatively small-scale SF publishing imprint, probably is too.) He nonetheless hopes that Google’s e-book sales program could lead to the development of more individualized, community-targeted stores that can help publishing sell more in aggregate by reaching out to particular communities that are not as well served by the major stores.