A decade after the MP3 epically disrupted the music industry, books are finally joining the digital revolution in a major way.
By the end of 2010, customers will have spent $966 million on eBooks, according to a report by Forrester Research. Five years from now, that figure will triple to nearly $3 billion.
“At that size and higher, not only do publishers need to take digital seriously, they must make it the new default for publishing, preparing for a day in which physical book publishing is an adjunct activity that supports the digital publishing business,” says James McQuivey, Vice President at Forrest. “And this dramatic reversal will have happened faster in book publishing than in any other media business.”
In general, user adoption of digital books has been slower than that of other digital media, like movies and music, probably because there’s a big difference between reading a physical copy of Moby-Dick and reading the massive Melville tale on your Kindle. As much as an audiophile might complain about it, most people can’t tell the difference between music played from a compressed audio file versus from a CD.
Still, it looks like people are slowly warming up to the idea of reading books on digital devices.
Out of all online adults who read books, only seven percent say they read eBooks. It’s a small number, but they are indispensable because that same minority reads the most books and spends the most money on books. The average eBook reader, which somehow includes people who don’t yet own eReaders, does 41 percent of their reading digitally. People with eReaders, like the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, read 66 percent of their books in digital form.
Forrester’s new published data reaffirms what people are already seeing in the textbook market. Because companies like BookRenter and Chegg are making a killing by renting out textbooks to cash-strapped students, at least one company is taking the next step by developing a digital textbook tablet.
The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is when (if ever) digital will become the most commonplace way to read books. People love their printed pages, but this industry is just getting started. Consider that for young adults and their little brothers and sisters growing up in a digital world, it might not seem as bizarre to read digital books exclusively.
Feel free to post your predictions in the comments; this changing industry needs more forecasts.