By Dennis Abrams
Writing for BloombergView about the “war” between Amazon and various authors and publishers, Leonid Bershidsky raises an interesting point: “What they fail to recognize is that in the world of digital literature, book ownership will soon be an anachronism.”
Bershidsky notes that the battle over ebook pricing is not like the music industry’s battle over a noticeably shrinking market, adding that there is data that indicates that American children and young adults are actually spending more time per day reading “for pleasure” than they were ten years earlier, and that book sales seem to be stable in “unit terms” while growing in dollar terms.
But while the book market seems to be at a minimum stable, Bershidsky does argue that the industry is “following the music market’s technological development path.” The analogy of hardcover and paperbacks to LPs and CDs is a good one, he writes, as is the analogy of Amazon’s Kindle to iPod and iTunes. But, he argues, we’ve now moved beyond the Kindle, as people read books on their phones and their tablets and download them from countless connections.
So is the subscription model offered by Amazon and Oyster and Scribd the answer? Bershidsky doesn’t think so – “Only 27 percent of U.S. respondents who buy books at all purchase more than 10 per year,” which, he says, is the number needed for a customer to justify paying a monthly fee.
One possible solution?
“For readers, a better model might be an enormous digital library in the cloud, where any book could be borrowed – made available for a time – for a smaller fee than its current purchase price at Amazon. Owning books makes about as little sense these days as owning music files, but paying the full price for lifetime availability could be an option. Any of the big cloud players – Amazon, Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Oracle Corp – or an ambitious startup renting cloud capacity from them could make such a service available. In this model, publishers would work mainly as promotion agencies, or authors could do their own marketing.
This model can’t become a reality, however, while industry players are still arguing about the economics of the previous iteration. By the time they’re done, the concept of book ownership may become as alien to most consumers as music ownership already is and car ownership is getting to be, and the industry will start shrinking in earnest. That can be avoided only if publishers, e-book sellers and authors set aside their differences to work preemptively on a reader-friendly model for new times.”