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Summary:

Years from now, when I tell my grandkids about this thing called print books, I’ll talk about the point in time that e-books won the war. Three defining events this week signaled that the era of physical bookstores has officially passed.

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Years from now, when I tell the grandkids about this thing called print books, I’ll reference the past few days as the week e-books won the war. Momentum is rapidly pushing the dominant industry focus in book publishing and selling toward digital. In my weekly analysis over at GigaOM Pro, I highlight three major milestones from this week that point to the beginning of the end for the print book era:

The $139 Kindle

The lower-priced, third-generation Kindle just took e-books mass-market. While the cool kids still want iPads for their multifunction capabilities, many of the entrenched readers just want the lower-priced e-reader from Amazon, which opens up an entirely new demographic to target. Amazon’s move will force other companies and e-book manufacturers to be just as competitive (or go even lower) pricewise, so get ready for the $99 eReader.

The One Million e-Book Selling Author

Steig Larsson not only passed away before his trilogy about Lisbeth Salander hit the big time, he also missed out on becoming the Ashton Kutcher of e-books. This past week, he became the first author to reach one million e-book sales, an amazing number given just six months ago the installed base of Kindles was estimated at two million.

Barnes & Noble Goes on the Block

Perhaps the most symbolic event this week was Barnes & Noble “exploring strategic alternatives,” including putting itself on the block. When America’s most iconic bookstore is struggling to make it, this is not a good sign. As I say in my analysis, over the next few years we’ll see the “hammer of low-priced e-books steadily nail coffins shut across the book-retailing landscape.”

No doubt much of what happened this week was set in motion by the launch of Apple’s iPad, which threw gas on the e-book fire in a significant way. This confluence of signifying events has marked an irreversible transition toward digital publishing that will likely have a sad ending for those encumbered by legacy cost structures.

Read the full post here.

You may also be interested in attending our half-day GigaOM Pro bunker on August 25th, Disintermediation in Publishing. This bunker will look at the impact of digital publishing on traditional publishing and bookselling. If you are a GigaOM Pro subscriber, you may request a ticket here.

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  1. Brian S Hall Friday, August 6, 2010

    The next Obama giveaway should be a $99 Kindle to every child in America, pre-loaded with 100s of free books.

    A poll on my site asked readers what they thought would be here in ten years (e.g. Borders, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, etc.). No surprise, Kindle won easily.

    http://brianshall.com/content/which-these-will-be-here-10-years

    1. @Brian – $99 e-Readers for everyone probably wouldn’t be a bad use of taxpayer money :)

      I’m not surprised about your poll, given the only true digital bookseller on there is Amazon, and the other two are saddled with lots of costly real estate and declining same-store sales.

  2. Are we there yet? « The Book is Dead Friday, August 6, 2010

    [...] we’re pretty damn close – the kindle and the ipad have moved us right to the edge. Michael Wolf on GigaOm thinks it’s over and that ‘e’ has won over ‘p’, citing the cheaper [...]

  3. Amazon thus far has been clever in supporting every new device and OS. Otherwise I think a firestorm would already be brewing over DRM–according to Amazon, you don’t really “own” any of the books you buy from them. And they’re not about to make it any easier to move your library to a competing platform.

    (Violating the law, I de-DRM’d all my Amazon books using readily available tools and never plan to buy any again–it’s all Gutenberg, Instapaper, and paper books for my Kindle and iPhone.)

    1. @john – Amazon’s software/app strategy has been their most important strategic play – they’re riding the iPad success in eBooks as much as Apple is, IMO.

      Agreed that lock-in to single platforms for you electronic content IS an issue that will ultimately need to be addressed as this market becomes bigger, but as we’ve seen with music, there’s not necessarily any resolution coming other than some vendors might decide to drop DRM (a la Amazon and eventually Apple) for competitive reasons.

      As for you breaking the law w/de-DRMing, no comment :)

  4. eBooks and readers still have a long way to go before they are embraced by the common market.
    1. Look at pricing of ebooks – initially they are a little less than the hardcover price, but by the time that the paperback version is out they are still at that same price of near paperback rather than the $5 – $7 that the trade paperback is selling for – even if there was never a hardcopy version you still need to pay $10 for the book in eformat.
    2. Look at format, so far we have seen people who were early adopters of the Kindel discover that their original purchase could be stolen back out of their devices (1984 incident last year), rendered obsolete by a new proprietary format on the device, or lost should the device fail or break.
    3. Exclusivity deals that limit the book to a single device.

    There needs to be more understanding of who and how people use books (education, recreation, etc.) and a single format standard that will work (in color) across devices at a competitive price vs hardcopy books before this war is won.

    1. @Eric – I would say prices of new eBooks are generally much less than retail pricing (at brick and mortar), and while Amazon discounts heavily enough that price differences are not huge between hardcover and eBooks, online book buyers are the first to go eBook (Amazon’s own numbers are a testament to that).

      I think that while #2 above is important, that issue hasn’t become big enough where most people actually care, meaning it hasn’t seeped into the public consciousness. Also – you have an online store locker for books w/Kindle, so if you lose your Kindle reader, you don’t lose your books.

  5. Cat Eldridge Sunday, August 8, 2010

    It is possible in the digital age for a local, place-bound bookstore to thrive. Here in Portland, Maine with Borders a mere few miles away ( which is thriving as well), these is a bookstore that has seen it’s sales go up every year that Amazon has been around by stressing quality customer service, stocking the books their customers want, and being involved in community events.

    Neither the net nor ebooks are a threat if you know your local book buying community.

  6. buybooksonline Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Although I agree the proliferation of e-book readers will have a large impact on the sale of print books, I think the death of the book is a long way off. If books could talk they might be inclined to quote the great Mark Twain “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated “.

  7. “Subscribe to read the rest of this article”

    I’m writing an article predicting the end of paywall content.

    I imagine it’ll come true sooner than your article.

  8. Maybe I was wrong about e-books « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller Sunday, August 15, 2010

    [...] this article by Michael Wolf entitled “How e-Books Won the War”.  I wouldn’t exactly go that far myself (there’s still some life in the old hardcopy I [...]

  9. The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    [...] how much time I spend on the go, I’m not surprised that I’ve started to buy more electronic versions of books. I haven’t lost my ardor for paper; it’s just that they are becoming a tad impractical [...]

  10. E-books and White Spaces on the Rise in Q3: Tech News « Monday, October 25, 2010

    [...] book retailing culminated in yet another milestone signifying the pending triumph of e-books. In August, Barnes & Noble announced it was evaluating strategic business alternatives, including a potential sale of the company. Indeed, we expect that most of the remaining [...]

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