Publishers should hang on to their hats after a "transformative" 2010, with many US executives now expecting digital sales to overtake print sales by 2014. The economic viability of apps and the big box retailers is also in question.
These were the key messages coming out of the first sessions of Digital Book World 2011, which saw executives such as Open Road's Jane Friedman, Macmillan president Brian Napack, and Thomas Nelson's c.e.o. Michael Hyatt address an audience of close to 1,200 delegates in New York.
James McQuivey, a principal analyst with Forrester, said that the book publishing industry was racing ahead of other media sectors in terms of its transition. He said 10.5m people in the US now owned a dedicated e-reader, and were continuing to buy them in 2011, while there were 10m tablets sold--primarily iPads. He said that $1bn had been spent on e-books in 2010, and expected $1.3bn to be spent in 2011. "It took other media industries multiple years to get to this point, but we were there in two, and you haven't seen anything yet."
McQuivey said that Forrester had interviewed 35 publishing executives in order to find out how ready they were for the digital transition. He said "executives are ready to rock", 89% of them were optimistic about the digital transition, while 66% thought book buyers would read more, and 83% thought their companies were capable of competing in the digital environment, although only 63% said their company had a plan for that digital transformation.
McQuivey said that on average the respondents felt e-books would account for half of all books sold by 2014, though some believed it would be sooner. However, just a third said they thought apps represented a significant revenue opportunity for them.
The rate of change was also addressed at the c.e.o panel which followed. Friedman said: "This is not a storm, this is a tsunami and nothing is going to return to what it was before. 2010 was the end of the beginning, digital is here, and it is for real and we all have to face that as publishers."
But there were warnings that the change could be painful for both publishers and retailers. She warned that the big publishers had the toughest task making the transition and that it would involve a "sea-change" for many. Macmillan's Brian Napack said this could be a "golden age of publishing, but not necessarily for all publishers".
Friedman warned that the traditional books store was "imploding", while social media was "exploding", but this she said gave independents bookshops "a chance" as "indies were always part of a community, and have been practising social media for all time".
But Mike Shatzkin, from the Idea Logical Company, who helped programme the conference, was more stark in his assessment of high street booksellers at a follow-up session. He said: "The fact is that as reading shifts to digital and print purchasing moves online you cannot run brick and mortar stores, and they will decline and eventually disappear, and publishers need to realise that."