Forrester’s James McQuivey Says Digital Publishing is About Economics, Not Format

In What's the Buzz by Hannah Johnson

ebooks and print books

By Hannah Johnson

Last week, James McQuivey of Forrester Research wrote a blog post summarizing Forrester’s new five-year forecast for e-books in the USA, which predicts that digital book sales would reach $3 billion by 2015, thus drastically altering the publishing industry.

In this post, McQuivey also predicted that digitization will happen “faster in book publishing than in any other media business. Not just because publishers have had years to watch other media industries face the digital transition, but also because book publishing is a single-revenue business.”

Readers reacted passionately to his post about the role of print and electronic books within the publishing industry, and some of the discussion covered some very familiar ground on whether print books will or should disappear.

Yesterday, McQuivey responded to these comments and ongoing discussion with another blog post, which asserts that the digitization of publishing taking place today is a matter of economics, not format. Unlike CD-ROMs and audiobooks before, e-books today provide easier and cheaper access to content, argues McQuivey.

Ultimately, we’re talking about a change in economics, not formats. In fact, paper doesn’t have to go away or even become the smallest share of revenues to be neutered economically. In the music business, for example, digital sales still only account for just under 40% of total revenue in the US, but it is very clearly the dominant driver of the business: the music labels design for digital release and use all other aspects of talent management (appearances, endorsements, concerts) to help sell CDs and concert DVDs as follow-on revenue boosters.

To one commenter, who asserted that physical books are artifacts to be cherished, McQuivey says:

He is right that people love books. But what he (and they) really mean when they say that they love books is that they love the ideas that books convey and the feelings they get from reading books. This is where I have news for the industry: the ideas and feelings books provide can be evoked digitally — in some cases even better than before, and in all cases, more cheaply than before.

Perhaps until e-books make up a large enough percentage of sales and establish their place in the industry, everyone in publishing will be subjected to this same discussion of which format is better or worse and whether print will disappear.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.