OK, here’s an optimistic observation for publishers.
Let’s say more and more real book readers find, “you know, reading on this iPhone, Android, smartphone I have is pretty good…” And the marketplace for reading on the phones grows quickly. Plenty of skeptics for that idea, sure. But not impossible. (Keep this in mind: three doublings make ebooks 8% of the market. Will that happen in 3 years? It certainly couldn’t take as long as five…)
Let’s further say that iPhone does not end up owning the world, and iPhone and Blackberry find themselves competing on everything — including “aps” and, of course, including books, with Nokia, Dell, Google Android, etc. And let’s say that (at least for a very long time) each device and screen and market channel creates enough need for some proprietary tweak that we add admin, tech, quality control, and a host of sales and marketing issues to be dealt with by the publishers and distributors. Seems like’s what’s happening.
And let’s say that multiple developers will create competing platforms to run on all those phones. We know about Stanza and Scrollmotion Iceberg for the the iPhone right now. Amazon bought Mobipocket specifically because it was multi-system compatible, which at that point meant it could play on both Microsoft dot lit and Palm PDAs. We already have a complicated distribution system with Ingram Digital and Content Reserve as the principal distributors to get publishers to online retailers and libraries, but not really putting you on Kindle or iPhone.
Just seems to me that ePub can’t solve all these problems automatically. I’m sure it will be a big help, but opportunities to complicate things are arising faster than standards can be created to keep up with them.
If sales of digital files become significant AND they are maximized only by managing the technology, deals, and marketing at a wide variety of major accounts, it is a good thing for publishers and for DADs (digital asset distributors). And, parallel to the physical marketplace, it will be interesting to see what tradeoffs develop between handling an account through a distributor and managing it directly. No doubt the technology pieces will prove to be best handled by an aggregator or consolidator, but the quality control and product marketing opportunities will be aspects publishers will want to control.
Why is this good for publishers? Because the key way publishers ADD VALUE is by managing a complex set of revenue opportunities. To the degree that almost all the sales take place in Barnes & Noble and Amazon, plus what you can get from Ingram and Baker & Taylor, it weakens the publisher’s core competitive and value proposition. If ebook sales take off in a highly fragmented way, which now seems to at least be a possibility, it will drive the standards and interopability and efficiency wonks absolutely crazy, but it will give a lot of publishers some very constructive work to do.