Andrew Savikas visits Nature

Last Thursday, Andrew Savikas, VP of Digital Initiatives at O’Reilly Media and ebook expert, paid us a visit. We had some very interesting conversations about the future direction of publishing, and Andrew delivered a great talk on the topic. He kindly provided a copy of his slides (16MB PDF). My (partial and impressionistic) notes are below.

The Digital Future of Publishing

Andrew Savikas, O’Reilly Media

Printed book sales through retail outlets falling, at least for the computing segment (served by O’Reilly). But ebook sales are really taking off – doubling every 18 months for the last 5 years. sales are higher for ebooks than print books by 2:1. These are not cannibalising print, but often reaching new (frequently overseas) customers. Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation that Andrew outlined but I didn’t capture in these notes, the market for ebooks in the US is arguably as big as for all computing books – and it’s growing rapidly.

O’Reilly offers its books in EPUB, PDF and Mobipocket (for Kindle). PDF is the most popular, followed by EPUB. They don’t use DRM. enables online ebook reading across desktop and mobile, and remembers where you’ve read to so you can pick up where you left off.

Google now indexes >1 tr web pages. This compares to ~13 bn pages in the Library of Congress. People are reading and writing more text than ever. Connecting your book to the web makes it part of this system. But it also fundamentally alters the dynamics of choice and consumption.

The Long Tail: Books on Safari that sell no print copies still get significant online traffic. This ‘tail’ accounts for about 23% of all demand. 2/3 of O’Reilly iPhone apps are sold outside the US – another example of the Long Tail.

Do online books have to be free? People already pay for the internet (e.g., $25.8bn in access fees).

Scott Adams’ article on free: "Free is more complicated than you think". Nine Inch Nails example: $300 deluxe edition sold out in less than a day despite the same audio being available for free download.

Some O’Reilly books sell very well even though they’re free on the web. Real World Haskell was their best-selling technical book despite being free on the web. Content was posted online and received comments. 21 people left at least 75 comments, the level expected by a paid technical reviewer. People pay for packaging and convenience, not just content (analogy with bottled water).

In the developing world most people don’t have laptops or even bookshelves, but they have mobile phones. According to IBM Research there will be 1bn web-enabled phones by 2011. Mobile reading is taking off. Stanza downloaded >2m times; Kindle and Sony Reader selling well. For iPhone: The Missing Manual O’Reilly sells more iPhone apps than print books (and it would be the bestselling computing book of all if the app version was included in industry stats). This is true of several O’Reilly titles; as of yesterday (2 Sept 2009), they had 100 iPhone apps. But the iPhone is only 2% of the phone market.

Price-sensitivity is higher online, but these are additive sales, and different offerings allows price discrimination. Example of Twilight app from Stephenie Meyer.

O’Reilly market share in print has grown despite the availability of online books via Safari. The same will be true of mobile, and more people will read books in digital form than in print.

Now all publishing is digital, and all writing is for the web. Ebook content without links looks ‘naked’ next to a blog entry. Examples of online communities: BookGlutton.

Joe Wikert of O’Reilly Media: "The first TV shows were basically just radio programs on the television, until someone realized it was a whole new medium." We’re just at the beginning of a transformation as important as Gutenberg.


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