The current publishing shift to electronic media, and more specifically eBooks, has changed the entire face of the industry over the last ten years.
But is it only the beginning?
Well, having a look at the evolution of another creative medium, the music industry, might hold the answer.
I was in a Music Business lecture at Southern Cross University in Lismore back in 2006, and the lecturer was explaining to us that over the next five to ten years, people would stop owning their own copies of music anymore; that both CDs and even mp3 digital downloads would be completely eclipsed by online streaming services where humongous libraries of music could be kept on digital “clouds” and accessed for a small weekly, monthly or yearly fee.
The in-class discussion that then ensued was not at all dissimilar to the eBook vs printed book debate that has been waged en repeat for the last ten years, despite an obviously emerging victor.
Though seemingly bizarre to myself and others in my class at the time, paid music subscription services, often with free ad-based versions, like Spotify and Pandora, are now ever more the rule and not the exception.
In fact, it is my firm opinion that, with the ever-accelerating proliferation of the internet, it is only a matter of time before digital cloud-based libraries store and hold hundreds of thousands of books and charge monthly subscription services, with free ad-based alternatives to encourage customers, similar to what is already being done with audiobooks at Audible.com.
Now this might seem like a far cry from reality, considering the wide variance in current book pricing, even in eBook format, but to be fair, not all CDs used to cost the same before iTunes came along and standardised individual track pricing.
And Amazon is already encouraging pricing standardisation by offering pricing suggestions based upon genre, style and length, and furthermore by offering a 70% royalty rate for books priced between $3.99 and $11.99 (AUD), but only a 35% royalty rate for books priced either above or below that middle range at which they know they can sell the most books.
YouTube and Spotify have both proven that customers will put up with regular advertisements for a free digital media system, and, much as Youtubers can select the length of and degree to which ads appear on their videos, authors would theoretically be able to choose the frequency of ads appearing throughout their books, with recommended standardisations based again on genre, word-count, popularity, etc.
It might even serve as an effective pacing tool in books built on creating a sense of suspense. Whereas Premium services could pay out royalties based upon number of pages read and reread, a notion Amazon itself floated just earlier this year.
Hard copies would probably still be available as a more expensive alternative/collector’s item, such as CDs and Vinyl are now. But perhaps the most pressing argument in favour of a subscription-based system is this, our question of the blog:
Wouldn’t you, as a book-lover, rather spend ten bucks a month for unlimited books at your fingertips than the twenty, thirty, fifty or more that you currently spend supporting your reading habit?