eBook sales signal (more) change

Blockbuster going out of business signXxxxx and I drove past the local Blockbuster store this week and noted the “going out of business” sign. We talked for awhile about renting tapes in the heyday of renting tapes, about the cleverness of timing your visit to intercept the new releases as they were being returned, and the sheer marvel of all of those choices in one place. Then came DVDs, kiosks, cable VOD and Netflix. Empowered consumers continue to press about price, convenience and sharing. Change is the new normal.

And it’s not that we need reminders of that, but this week’s news (here and here) that eBook sales have, for the first time, surpassed paper book sales is both stunning and foreboding (for any traditional form of media). According to The Association of American Publishers (AAP), February e‑book sales tripled from a year ago to $90.3 million, making it the most popular format for books in the US. A lot of people got readers for Christmas and are signalling approval by continuing to buy. It’s cheaper and more convenient.

After completely disrupting music and video, technology has another one on its consumer-driven gun belt. The AAP is spinning this news to make it seem positive, but eBooks are making life miserable for the old way of doing things and all the jobs that make up the industry. Where it goes is anybody’s guess, but you can bet it won’t be a painless transition. For example, eBooks undercut the basic value proposition of book stores. Nobody can carry EVERY book, but the Web can. I can recall recently going to Barnes & Noble looking for a specific title. They didn’t have it but offered to order it for me. Why would I want to do that? If it’s a gift, I can order it myself (and get it quicker). If it’s for me, the Kindle version will be there in minutes and cost less. The future of the book store seems a little like the Blockbuster down the street. Don’t think so? Be careful.

Order is not one of my favorite words, because it’s almost always there to benefit the one defining the term. Chaos isn’t pejorative when it levels the playing field for everybody, which is why it’s feared mostly by those who benefit from order. Today’s chaos, however, is tomorrow’s order, although the adjustment period of such massive cultural shifts is always longer than the status quo wants. It’s just long enough to change things forever.

The news about eBooks should not be lightly dismissed. It’s permanent and a continuing reminder that we’re in the most remarkable era in communications history.


  1. I wonder if the order of the day is to make e‑books so ubiquitous that nobody values them or their content. It is another thing that we can purchase and never again think about once the transaction is complete.

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