Sony forum: the trade talks ebooks

Charlotte Harper rounds up the discussion at Sony’s ebook forum in Sydney:

Digital titles could make up between 20 and 30% of the trade book market within two to five years, according to attendees at a round table event on the future of reading hosted by Sony in September.

Sony Australia arranged the forum in Sydney to discuss the impact devices such as the company’s just-launched Readers will have on reading, writing, literacy and publishing. Panellists included Paul Colley, technology communications manager, Sony Australia; HarperCollins COO Jim Demetriou; REDgroup Retail managing director—ecommerce and digital, Singapore, James Webber; Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) CEO Joel Becker; Get Reading program director Cheryl Akle; and Alex Pollack, media analyst, Macquarie Group.

Their predictions, on the rise of the ebook varied—Akle said she could envisage an 80-20 mix in three years, Becker posited a 75-25 by 2015, while Demetriou guessed at 70-30 in five years, adding that he believed overall volume would increase as digital devices enticed particularly male readers into the market.

‘I’m really positive that more people will come to books,’ said Demetriou, adding that he expected there would be a lot of experimentation in terms of pricing, devices and enhanced ebooks before the market settled down.

The tipping point

The industry was already on its way to a tipping point in terms of ebook take-up, or would reach one within a couple of years as everyone from major players like Apple and Google to small independent booksellers began to sell ebooks.

Demetriou said the tipping point would come when ebook sales reached 10% or more of book sales, and that US ebook sales were still at around 7% but may reach 10% this Christmas. In terms of device availability and retail set-up the US was about 18 months in front of Australia, while the UK was around 12 months ahead.

‘We take our cues from the US and the UK, so I think the tipping point is still a ways off, but we’re definitely seeing signs of movement in the marketplace,’ he said. ‘Our sales are growing rapidly, but from a very small base.’

Webber pointed out that the figures were likely to change dramatically again in a few years, once a generation that has grown up with smartphones, tablets and e-readers—and never reading physical books—comes of age.

He said REDgroup stores (Borders, Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls) and their websites sold out of the original Kobo devices within three days of launch, and that four months on, ebook sales are two to three times what they’d expected. He said the company saw adding ebooks to their business as necessary. ‘People were thirsty for this change. There is no doubt that people here are wanting to get into this market.’ Continue reading