Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
August 4th, 2010

A Futurist’s Forecast for e-Books

The recent announcement from Amazon that in the past three months they had sold more e-books for their Kindle reader than hardcover books is significant.  It confirms that 2010 will be the year of lift off for e-books.  Amazon said that it sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there are no Kindle editions.

This made me want to go back to past forecasts I have made about e-books to see how accurate they were.  As long time readers know, I have been forecasting the dramatic increase in e-books for four years.  In June of 2007, six months before the Kindle came out, I wrote the following:

“E-books will ultimately gain significant market share.  This will occur when there is an “iPod moment”; when a device comes out that is low-priced, wonderful to use and perceived to be cool (Steve Jobs are you listening?).  Once this occurs, there will be a rapid increase in the percentage of books sold digitally, probably leveling off around 40-50 percent by 2025.  Impulsive buys, such as at airport bookstores will become “purchase and download”…. “What’s on your e-reader?” will replace “What’s on your iPod?”

I remember that when I made this forecast, because it was half a year before the Kindle came out, there was derision regarding that 40-50% figure.  I now look at that figure and find it conservative.  Here are my forecasts for e-books as a percentage of total books sold:

2010        10%

2011        15%

2012        20%

2015        40%

2020        60%

2025        75%

I think that by 2020, people will primarily buy physical books because of some special emotional, sentimental or identity reason.  I think that the used book business in the coming decade will undergo a rebirth as those that collect physical books will want to make sure that they have physical copies of certain books regardless of condition.  I forecast that by 2020 print on demand will be the dominant part of the physical book business.

I predict that the 4th quarter of 2011 will be the first holiday buying season when e-readers will become a significant part of gift giving.  There are two primary reasons for this.  First the price war for e-readers has begun.  The price of the major e-readers is now below $150.  There will be $99 e-readers available for the holiday season.  Both on-line and physical retailers will try to package the purchase of an e-reader with gift cards for digital downloads.

So, we have multiple e-readers, the iPad (with a new updated version with camera and other features most likely to be introduced for the holiday season), and rapidly dropping prices for all devices, including the iPad.  We have a number of different tablets coming to market.  Amazon will be cranking up its marketing efforts.  Barnes & Noble will be making a major effort to sell Nooks in all of its stores.  The cultural tipping point for digital reading is about to occur.

There is another dynamic that will soon come to market that will probably accelerate the move toward digital books and that is the combination of digital books and social media.  A product called Copia –  www.thecopia.com – will soon be coming to market.  I recently had a demonstration and an in depth conversation with a senior executive and I must admit that the product is not only impressive; it could be a huge evolutionary next step in the digital reading experience.

In my Shift Age Trend Report and here at Oprah.com I have written that the truism ‘content is king’ from the Information Age is now joined by the phrase ‘context is king’ for the Shift Age.  Copia is the first reading experience I have seen that truly combines these two trends.  So our growing fascination with reading digital books, increasing affordability of devices and our full embrace of social media are coming together to trigger a tipping point in the months ahead.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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