EBook Predictions from Mike Shatzkin

January 1st, 2010

Here at Osborne Manor in West Vancouver on the first day of a new year I stepped outside briefly to listen to the gentle sound of the waves lapping upon the shores of Burrard Inlet.

Somehow this reminded me of Mike Shatzkin’s 13 predictions about what 2010 holds for eBooks. I read them on my iPhone this afternoon while out shopping for supplies. The rain was falling but I chose not to let that affect my mood. Instead I thought mainly that with the apparent death of print newspapers surely one of the rituals that we could dispose of, blaming it upon the digital impact on news coverage, was any requirement to make new year predictions. The number has traditionally been ten. Mike chose to go for thirteen, a baker’s dozen. He might better have stayed at five.

As readers of this blog know I have great respect for Mike. He does not remember me, although I was at one point a client of his family’s business way back when books were merely printed on paper. A lot of people have respect for Mike, because he is knowledgeable, incredibly bright, and a beacon for the New York publishing community concerned about its future.

Onto the predictions.

They struck me as retreads: stuff that he’d discussed on his blog one or more times over the last year. Let’s start with #13, the baker’s bonus: “Book publishers will have to admit to real confusion about what the product is that they produce.” Well I do believe this is already happening. I might have phrased it “Book publishers will have to admit to INCREASING confusion about what the product is that they produce.”

Now back to number one: “At least one major book will have several different enhanced ebook editions.” Mike and several others have discussed this before. Surely this is THE POINT. Just to repurpose a print book into lesser quality on a digital device is not going to be the promised nirvana of the eBook. As I’ve often discussed (following Paul Saffo), new technology is used initially very conservatively merely to reproduce in digital form that which existed in analog form. Eventually people discover what makes the digital medium unique and work towards the unique advantages that allow it to excel beyond the analog.

With prediction number 6 Mike states some numbers: “Ebooks become significant revenue contributors for many titles. By the end of 2010, ebook sales will routinely constitute at least 20% of the units moved for midlist and the lower tier of bestsellers and at least 10% of the units for really big bestsellers.” Good. We can check that out 12 months from now.

Number 8 is I think very good, and has not been much noted: “In the digital world, geographical territories will be found not to make much sense. The problem of managing territorial rights for ebooks will be a growing problem the industry will have to deal with.” The whole issue of territorial rights has historically been connected solely to physical merchandise, national publishers and local booksellers. Foreign rights have often been a significant source of income for the originating publisher. This is an issue where technology forces a game changer and will be a challenge for publishers well beyond 2010.

And that’s about it as far as I can see. But do check out the original entry (link above) and decide for yourselves.

HNY (Happy New Year).