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Lighting the Candle

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By Doug Thompson

Amazon.com, the online retailer, now sells 143 downloads of books for every printed hardcover book they sell, according to figures from the company.

In the past month, Amazon has sold 180 e-books for every 100 in hardcover.

This is wonderful.

Hey, I love the bookstore too. I love to browse and so forth. I don’t own an electronic reader yet, either. However, the day will come when the whole library that weighs down my shelves at home will go on a single iPad device. I will then be able, within reason, to read what I want, when I want, where I want.

I’m all for technology once everybody else has tried it out for me. I expect that someday soon I’ll have a cellular phone that is just a phone. It might have a keypad on it, but that’s all I want. If I want to scroll the news, listen to music, type a letter — or read a book, or listen to an audio book while I’m driving — I’ll pull out my iPad, or whatever I own when I actually have one.

Notably, the aspect of the story on rising sales of e-books that’s getting ignored is that hardcover book sales are not dropping off. The e-book trade is not cannibalizing hardcover yet. Hardcover sales, in fact, are growing slowly.

I’ve written before that the developed world is not entering a “post-literacy” era, as many fear. I can’t consider myself as proven right yet, not by a long shot, but news like this is encouraging.

This development does not work to the advantage of the rich. If a hardcover book costs, say, $15 more than a download, then somebody will be able to pay for his electronic reader very quickly with the savings. I’d argue that it’s a bargain right away because downloads of many classics that are no longer covered by copyright are free.

Granted, going to the library is still the cheaper option. However, your typical public library can’t offer books on any topic in any language that you can read anywhere.

Go to Google and go to their book section. Type in any topic. Chances are, you can find a book on it and can download a copy. There may be a charge, but it’s out there.

Speaking of electronics and the good use of leisure time, game industry analyst Micheal Patcher of Wedbush Morgan has written: “We estimate that a total of 12 million consumers are playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 for an average of 10 hours per week on the two platforms’ respective networks, and the continued enjoyment of this game (along with an estimated 6 million Halo online players, 3 million EA Sports players, and 5 million players playing other games, such as Battlefield, Red Dead Redemption, Left 4 Dead and Grand Theft Auto) has sucked the available time away from what otherwise would be spent playing newly purchased games. Hence a steep decline in new game sales.”

He goes on: “We think that it is incumbent upon Activision, with the most popular multiplayer game, to take the first step to address monetization of multiplayer.” Monetization, of course, means charging you for it. “It is too early to tell whether that will be a monthly subscription, tournament entry fees, microtransaction fees, or a combination of all three, but we expect to see the company take some action by year-end, when Call of Duty Black Ops launches.”

Activision is denying rumors that it will make people pay to play, but the market pressures are building.

The big impact for me, at least, is that it’s going to be harder and harder for single-player only games to draw investors when the real action is in multi-player. My favorite recent game, Mass Effect 2, isn’t even in the Top 10 in sales so far this year. Now a big part of that reason is because the game industry’s having a massively good year for a relatively few titles in established franchises. ME2 is still a success, substantially outselling the first Mass Effect. In profitability, it’s made a mint with downloadable content. Still, the trend is in.

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