How Ebooks Conquered the World

February 17th, 2011

Little Shop of Horrors lost ending

Last May, a competitor emerged for the Kindle. It was called the Kobo, and it was available in Walmart stores, and also Borders. But today the news finally came down that Borders has now, officially, filed for bankruptcy. All their recent moves “failed to make up for sagging book sales in the face of competition from Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc,” Bloomberg News reported today.

It’s interesting that one of Borders’ last desperate moves was trying to sell a digital reader for ebooks. New York Magazine once interviewed the 69-year-old founder of Barnes and Noble, who conceded, they wrote, that “the superstores can serve as platforms for marketing their own replacement technology.” Today as soon as you walk into a Barnes and Noble store, you’re now greeted with a prominent counter dedicated to trying to sell you the Nook. Barnes and Nobles’ new CEO calls that counter “the shrine.”

But today I stumbled across an interesting statistic. An Australian newspaper interviewed the managing e-commerce director at RedGroup Retail, which owns all the Borders stores in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. He bragged that they’d sold out of Kobos when they first introduced them, but that over the next nine months, they’d only sold 50,000. That comes out to just 185 a day — for the entire continent of Australia, combined with sales in both Singapore and New Zealand. To put that in perspective, Amazon is estimated to have sold at least 6,000,000 Kindles in the last year. That is, for every Kobo that was sold in those three regions, Amazon sold 120 Kindles. It’s hard to make a dent in your competition when they’re outselling you 120 to 1…

Of course, Australia is only one part of the global market for digital readers — but they offer a unique perspective. “The best predictions are that Australia is probably likely to take up e-books faster than the US and the UK,” according to chief executive of the Australian Publishers’ Association, “but that’s simply because of the population size.” She predicts that within five years, 40% of the books that are sold in
Australia will be ebooks. And that can’t be good for booksellers like Borders…

If we’re seeing a major change, then it’ll eventually reach every part of the globe — and the experience of Australians might be a harbinger of things to come. It was interesting to read the comments that were
left on the newspaper’s web site. “Nothing can replace the tangible feeling of having a physical book in your hands,” wrote one reader who called themselves Bookworm. “However my eyes sadly are not what they used to be so like the surging numbers turning to e-readers I have embraced this new technology. With the size of the text adjustable, it is the perfect device for me to continue my love affair with books which started when I was but a wee lad.” And while Kindle owners are complaining that ebook prices have started rising, in Australia they’ve been complaining about the high cost of printed books! “Australia’s take up of eBooks has less to do with being ‘nimble’,” wrote a woman named Mary, “and more to do with Australians being sick to death of the price gouging by local retailers that sees us pay three times what the rest of the English speaking world pays for the same book. Finally we can fight back.”

But even with that perspective, ebooks still seemed too expensive, according to another comment from JG. “Two-thirds the cost of a physical book is of course still far to expensive for what is essentially a few megabytes of data at most. I am all for authors getting farily paid for their hard work, but since the only costs involved in digital distribution are editing/formatting and hosting services, should the artificially high prices for books we pay in Australia really be the benchmark for e-book prices?”

I was reading the news headlines late last night, so I ended up getting stories from around the globe. But it seems like no matter which country the news came from, there was somebody who was raving about ebooks and the Kindle. One British columnist even headlined his story: Three 3 New Reaons Why My Amazon Kindle Grows in My Esteem. Just like he’d the easy bookmarking, the ease of switching books, and the ability to change font sizes. “When I first got my Amazon Kindle USA,” he wrote, “I was half expecting that it would be a fad that would only last for a short while before I returned to my life-long habit of reading books…

“…but this is not proving to be the case!”

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