The ebook revolution is over, the major battles have been fought, and the ebook format is here to stay.
Yes, there are still a few skirmishes on the sidelines in trade publishing.
Traditional publishing houses fought on in vain trying to protect their privileged position, monopolistic profits, and champagne lunches they held as their right for so long.
But they eventually ceded to the new reality, particularly in the area of ebook pricing.
Since the advent of the Internet in the mid-nineties, consumable entertainment and productivity producers of music, movies, software, and games have all experienced the same initial digital revolution.
Then they need to adapt progressively over the years of evolution in their markets.
The packaging has disappeared
Before the revolution, all of these products were sold individually in containers and stacked on store shelves.
Microsoft sold its software in boxes, on floppy disks with a thick book of instructions.
Games were sold in boxes, lined up again on store shelves.
Music changed its containers from vinyl to tape to compact disk, all in plastic wrapping on music store shelves.
Movies moved from VHS tape to DVD to Blue-ray and filled movie rental stores.
All of these products disappeared from brick and mortar stores, and all the stores closed up shop.
But books remained, stacked high on the shelves of bookstores, with the market controlled in most part by the Big Six publishers.
All of these industries, apart from books, were forced by digital delivery to move away from the business model of selling their products in plastic-wrapped boxes in malls and high street stores to selling their products online.
For some time, this worked well until piracy became a telling factor.
Apple, of course, was the leader at that time in selling digital downloads in the music business with iTunes and the iPod, and then later with games and apps. To its credit, this overcame a lot of the piracy.
Microsoft was slower to move initially but eventually started selling its software online as most software producers had been doing so well before.
Then, of course, there was Amazon, hitting the movie download and rental business.
Along come subscription services
Then, another significant change hit books–subscription services.
Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, and a host of other producers changed tack, with the one holdout being Apple iTunes.
With paid music downloads sales falling, Apple followed suit, finally.
While the market has been evolving, changing, and adapting, books and ebooks have been a little stuck in the mud.
It was mainly due to the reluctance of the publishing industry to change.
Amazon took advantage of this intransigence and carved out a monopoly for itself. It has been built on the back of their invention of the self-publishing model.
Authors willingly, happily, and enthusiastically took advantage of the ability to publish, first in print-on-demand paperback, and then a little later in ebook.
Amazon built a war chest of hundreds of thousands of books and ebooks that it used to put pressure on, and then fight the Big Five publishers for dominance in the publishing market.
Some bemoan the market dominance of Amazon. It currently holds by all accounts, around 65% or more of both the book and ebook market.
But it is worth remembering that it was Amazon who innovated, changed, adapted, took risks, invested, and looked to the future and not the past, which was where the traditional publishers were, and mostly still are firmly fixed.
The future of ebooks is to adapt or die
The adage of adapt or die is certainly fitting. It will be those in the market who adapt that will survive and profit.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) moved to offer its Kindle Unlimited subscription-based model for ebooks, which was logical.
However, this is only available to self-published titles by authors or small press publishers who have agreed to give Amazon exclusivity by enrolling their digital books in the KDP Select program.
For many, this exclusivity is a bad thing. But having built its position of total market dominance, Amazon has the right to make its own rules.
No one complains when a traditional publisher demands exclusive rights to an author’s book, do they?
Amazon doesn’t demand the rights to a book. It only asks for the exclusivity to sell, and then it is only for a period of three months.
It is enough, though, for Amazon to keep its war chest of 1,000,000 or more books published that it uses whenever there’s a battle to fight with big publishers, as was the case with Macmillan and Hachette in earlier days.
That’s the history, but what will happen to the future of ebooks?
Because an ebook is only a digital file, the same as an app, a music track, a movie, or software, it’s logical to assume that what has happened to all the other market sectors will happen to ebooks.
Subscription services have already started with Amazon and others, and there will surely be more jumping into this model by necessity.
Another model that has worked well with apps, in particular, is the revenue model supported by advertising.
If I were to make a small wager, I would keep an eye on Google Play Books, which has yet to find its feet in ebook sales.
Google is not a search company, it is an advertising company, and its revenue is built almost totally on advertising.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Google Adsense in ebooks (pay per click or pay per 1,000 views advertising) isn’t a future option.
We are all now used to almost every website we view having Google Adsense advertising. The appearance of an advertisement at the top of every ten pages or so may not be considered intrusive.
As all types of ereading devices connect to the Internet, it makes a lot of sense.
Interactive ebooks? Maybe
Currently, ebooks are boring as they are almost exclusively, except for the cover image, black text on a white background.
With the capacity of devices such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, smartphones, phablets, and a whole range of other devices, all capable of delivering rich, colorful interactive displays, the ebook starts to look a little drab, old-fashioned, and decidedly dull.
The future of ebooks will depend on moving away from the concept that an ebook is just a copy of a book in electronic form. Therefore it must look as much like a printed book as possible.
Paper pages wrapped in a cardboard cover is not technology; it’s tradition and history.
The ebook will develop and move away from the book by using color, movement, interactivity, and connectivity.
The ebook will become less of a book and more of an app. It will become shareable, social, and flexible.
Another possibility is in the area of text to voice. It could bring the potential to produce audiobooks at next to no expense.
Voice technology is advancing rapidly every year on our phones and in our homes.
Leveraging this technology and applying it to ebooks make logical sense.
The future of the ebook is work in progress
The future of the ebook is by no means certain, and it will go through a long process of change and adaptation.
But it is as yet an underdeveloped product that is open to creative minds to explore and exploit.
Yes, Amazon has a monopoly today, but monopolies never last forever.
Amazon’s market share will gradually diminish as those with fresh new inventive ideas find ways to create new opportunities and revenue streams from ebooks.
Just as Amazon did when it invented self-publishing.
So what will the ebook itself and the ebook market be like in five or ten years?
No one knows, of course, but one thing is a certainty, it won’t be anything like it is today.
Related reading: Kindle Publishing – How To Self-Publish An Ebook On Amazon