Digital Publishing Goes Mainstream. PT Attempts To Make a Meal Out of the Proverbial ePie
This month we decided to tackle the Sisyphean task of coming up with eNumbers – stats for the digital side of the biz. For the Book Publishing industry, eBooks are the most literal digital translation – books, in every sense of the term, simply supplanting paper with screens. The past seven rollercoaster years however – with the steady vacillation between eBooks as savior and eBooks as failed hype – have left publishers with a collective stomach ache. Ever device-conscious, eBooks are once again on an upswing with the Sony Reader dancing on the horizon, but publishers have learned to temper their enthusiasm.
“I avoid the word eBook like a plague,” Meg Fisher, Director of Domestic Rights at Oxford University Press said during an eBook panel at Book Tech. “I like to call it digital media.” Fisher’s viewpoint – moving away from looking at eBooks as the digital publishing market to looking at eBooks as comprising a part of the digital publishing market – is one that more and more publishers are starting to share. Digital audio, PDF downloads, online reference, mobile licensing, pay-per-use, monetized search, podcasts, chunking – the digital publishing market as a burgeoning profitable force is just warming up.
“When it comes to the delivery of digital content, the industry is still at the blind man and the elephant phase,” says Lightspeed‘s Jim Lichtenberg. “eBooks? Online Journals? Part of the problem is that nobody really owns it as a whole – it’s springing up in different ways and everyone is looking at different parts of the beast.”
Disparate definitions breed specious statistics and reports vary widely as to digital publishing’s pull. Ask any publisher in the digital media division to talk about their slice of the industry and they all start off the same way – “We’re still really new…what did everyone else say?” Take eBooks for instance: Current estimates of the overall eBook market range from $3 million to upwards of $30 million. Officially, Nick Bogaty, Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), estimates the eBook market to be between $12-$15 million, with eBooks defined as downloadable DRM-ed complete books encrypted by the publisher and functioning similar to an i-Tune.
Vincent Janoski, Business Manager at SparkNotes, ventures a higher estimate, placing the industry around $21 million based on a 40-50% growth rate (generally cited as the estimated increase of both revenue and offerings) from $10 million in 2003. According to Janoski, limiting the market to DRM-ed eBooks narrows the field quite a bit by excluding non-encoded PDF downloads like SparkNotes Literature guides, downloadable directly from both their website (www.sparknotes.com), and partner sites like MBS. “Our PDF downloads are fast approaching $500,000 in sales,” he said. “In the context of a $15-20 million market, that is a pretty big share that is not captured in the IDPF stats.” Going even further, if one were to expand the definition of eBooks to include the more loosely defined eDocument (or eDoc) numbers would dramatically increase, at least in terms of units and titles (Amazon has over 1 million eDocs up for sale).
Digital Audiobook downloads comprise another well-publicized and growing piece of digital publishing. Again, overall revenue is difficult to track, but according to the Audio Publisher’s Association, downloadable audio (or eAudio, as some publishers are referring to it) accounts for about 6% of the overall audiobook market that currently hovers somewhere around the $1 billion mark.
While eBooks and eAudio are the most obvious manifestations of print media in a digital age – whole “books” sold through the e-equivalent of traditional retail channels – other parts of the digital publishing market, like online reference, represent the growing trend of “chunking” information – breaking it apart and allowing consumers to become the architects, rather than leaving construction to publishers. Since consumers don’t buy chunks in the same way they buy whole content (although up-and-coming programs like Amazon Pages, and Random House’s initiative to monetize individual pages are testing this fact) other models such as subscription, rental, pay per view, and ad-supported content have cropped up.
As business models shift and settle, one of the most difficult dividing lines to draw in order to estimate the overall digital publishing market is the line between monetization and marketing, according to Lichtenberg. “Since the market is in its infancy and on a quest to convert print consumers into digital consumers, business models are still emerging,” he said. For now, marketing and merchandising spill into each other – free Podcasts advertising pay audiobooks, Holtzbrinck‘s up-and-coming RSS-delivered Chapter Feeds enticing customers to buy both print and digital, the innumerable bundled digital incentives educational publishers are using to gain leverage.
Offically, no one collects statistics about the overall digital publishing market. Unofficially, we’ve attempted to clarify the emerging market, in order to begin to define the digital pie, the pieces of the elephant, the elusive estats. Take a look.