The Year Ahead: 2012
I recently did my annual review for 2011. As has been the case in the past, the radical changes are both hardware and what I can loosely call software…but actually involves all sorts of cultural elements, not just written computer code.
For the year ahead, it feels like the world of e-books is moving into a new stage. Late in the year will give us the fifth “birthday” for the Kindle. There were millions of Kindles sold…in December alone. I think the resistance to e-books among serious readers has been overcome, for the most part. They are the mainstream.
That’s both good and bad.
It’s good, because more resources will be committed to e-books. More of an effort will be made to secure the rights to older titles. Global availability will have a great value.
It’s bad, because we are getting past that early adopter phase. Newbies now expect it to be a mature medium. An early adopter is fine with there being a few flaws…you don’t set off to sail around the world with Columbus and expect a luxury suite. The expectation now is that an EBR (E-Book Reader) should work flawlessly…certainly, as well as a SmartPhone or laptop computer. That may be unrealistic at this point. It also means that things are starting to become established, and that inevitably concentrates power. Spill a bag of dog food on the floor so it goes everywhere. Even the lowliest beta dog can snag a piece or two in the beginning. Shortly, though the alpha will have claimed a large pile…a lot more than the alpha can eat. Then, the beta depends on the alpha. We’re getting to that point, I think.
As I do each year, let me start out by looking at the predictions I made last year for this year (2011). Then, I’ll go out on a limb and make some guesses for 2012.
An Amazon Android Tablet
At this point, the Kindle Fire may seem like it was an inevitability, but that wasn’t the case when I was writing about it nine months before it was announced. I said:
- could be a really big success
- a backlit, web-surfing, movie-streaming tablet
- They’d promote it for their streaming video service, among other things.
- would appeal outside of serious readers
- It wouldn’t be a replacement for a Kindle for that serious reader group, but an addition to it
- it wouldn’t be the top tablet, but there would be a place for it
I feel good about this one. I said I had hoped it wouldn’t be called a Kindle, but I didn’t really make that a prediction, just a desire. I thought there might be a larger screen version (which I said might be a negative for there being a next gen Kindle DX…there wasn’t one). Again, I didn’t make that a prediction header, like I did for an Amazon Android tablet.
The Agency Model goes away
Not only did this “publisher sets the prices” model not go away, the last of the Big Six, Random House (which I consider a thought leader) followed the rest of the group and adopted it.
Ruling on the Google Settlement/Orphan Books Legislation
Oh, come on! Judge Chin put this off…again.
E-book Market and the Kindle store
I thought there might be two million titles in the USA Kindle store, and we’re not close to that. However, I did predict more non-English books, and said, “ E-magazines will gain a strong presence on tablets. Mass market paperbacks will continue to see market share erosion.” Those two pieces are really solid. I thought that e-books might be 25% of the USA publishing market. We don’t know that yet…we’ll get the figures from the Association of American Publishers in the next two months (maybe soon). The last figure I’ve seen from them was for September, and e-books were $80.3m out of $576.6m…that’s about 13%. I said that e-books might be 25% by the end of the year…and I think that’s possible still. Many of the e-books are sold outside of the AAP. I think the holiday season will have been heavily e-books, although a certain biography did very well in paper.
More text-to-speech access
This has happened, I’m pretty sure, and in a manner similar to what I suggested…a quiet moving away from blocking the text-to-speech access.
Web-E-Books become more popular
Amazon did introduce its Cloud Reader, and I could claim this as a hit, certainly. No question that many people downloaded it. I’m not sure, though, that the idea was embraced in the way I was suggesting. Amazon didn’t announce this as a success at the end of the year. We didn’t see tablets being marketed specifically with web-e-book reading being a feature.
More active content
Of course, having the Kindle Fire and apps makes this unquestionable, but there was still more and more active content added for RSKs (Reflective Screen Kindles).
Enhancements to the Kindle
- Parental controls: this was a hit for the Fire, but they didn’t really implement it like I thought they might. I’m going to call this mixed. I said, “…people will start complaining in a big way about this if their kids are reading pornography”, and the people complaining part was right
- Use of the microphone on the K3: miss
- Better descriptions of the books on the Kindle and better integration with Shelfari: mixed. There was definitely better integration with Shelfari, but they didn’t really improve the descriptions on the device…in fact, they eliminated them altogether on the Fire. I was expecting more social features…something like NOOK Friends
I do want to take credit for a mid-year hit before I move on to 2012. In this post, I was guessing what Amazon was going to announce. I said:
My guess is that it may be several things.
- A Kindle backlit tablet (which might be called the Amazon Kindle Fire, but we’ll see). I would guess they’ll announce a low-priced one (on the order of $200…maybe $189, to take the price point of the currently most expensive Kindle that isn’t the DX) and maybe another one with free Prime for maybe $239 (to underprice the NOOKColor by $10…they like that)
- Two new reflective Kindles, one an entry level ($129?) which is stripped down (I don’t know if they can do that with a touchscreen, but maybe), and one that is touchscreen and more expensive…maybe even a larger screen (time to bench the DX)
- Prime E-Book Lending, so Amazon Prime members can read very select e-books for free (again, I think that would be included with the tablet…maybe with a more expensive flavor, as I indicated above)
- Price drops on existing Kindles (including the K3 wi-fi only ad-supported going under $100)
Overall, that was a lot more accurate than most tech writers were saying. I was happy about it.
Now on to…
More than one new Kindle Fire
I do think we’ll see a larger screen Kindle Fire…around ten inches. My guess is that it will come soon…announced before the end of January, probably. However, I also think we’ll see another seven-inch Kindle Fire…with more features (GPS, cameras), and that it will be more expensive. My guess is we’ll see at least two of the larger screen…and that 3G (not free 3G) will be part of this. We may see Amazon offering data plans themselves, and they could partner with AT&T on this. I think it likely, though, that they will let people go with different carriers. There were a lot of complaints I saw from people who couldn’t get their Kindle Fires to connect with their wi-fi, and 3G would resolve that issue. I’m not convinced this means a lower-priced Kindle Fire, but they have surprised me with lower prices before.
Continued support for Reflective Screen hardware…and a wi-fi large screen
The biggest selling, gifted, and wished for item of the holiday season, was the Kindle Fire…but the best reviewed electronic item according to Amazon was the $79/$109 Kindle (which I call the Mindle). I think we’ll see a Mindle-esque, stripped down, large screen RSK (Reflective Screen Kindle). If they can get the price sub $150 (which I think they can), for a wi-fi only large-screen RSK, I think that can be a good seller for them.
Current TV through Prime
In a recent homepage letter (those ones that appear at Amazon.com), Jeff Bezos mentioned that there were more interesting things coming for Prime members. Amazon is willing to spend big bucks to get content for Prime…because I think they make a lot of money off physical items bought through Prime. As I’ve said before, I think their economic model going forward (not counting web services…just in the area of retail goods) is about “diapers and windshield wipers”. Being able to watch a current TV show within a day or two of broadcast as part of your paid Prime membership would be a big incentive. It could actually cut into the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) market. They might also do some kind of original programming. I’m less sure about this, but I think there might be some kind of Prime deals with magazines and apps. The ability to borrow an app (even with a lot of restrictions)…or maybe have a one or two-day trial period would appeal to folks. Same thing with magazines and newspapers…read one free issue a month (and you can’t do the same magazine twice in a year). That would sell a lot of magazines subscriptions in the long run. I know you can do a fourteen-day trial now, but this would not autorenew…and maybe they could do back issues this way. Publishers would love a market for back issue e-periodicals, I think.
Barnes & Noble hardware does well, Kobo doesn’t, mini iPad
It wouldn’t surprise me if people were more satisfied with the NOOK Tablet than they were with the Kindle Fire. It did cost more, but my guess is that it hit the expectations better for a lot of purchasers. I’m expecting that we’ll hear good reports on how well that sold. I don’t think the Kobo Vox caught on very well…it just didn’t get into the news cycles. I’m guessing those sales are disappointing. I think Apple will likely come out with a “mini” (or micro or nano or whatever) iPad that competes more directly with the Fire. I would guess it would still cost more money, but be cheaper than the current generation.
No doubt, the coolest tech development for many people this year was Siri, the natural language engine on the new iPhone. It certainly works imperfectly, but that wasn’t the only computer language use in the news…there was Watson understanding the Jeopardy questions. The measurable part of this prediction will be that in 2012, Amazon, Apple, and/or Barnes & Noble will release a mobile device with at least a six-inch screen that can take voice commands. I think we are going to begin to expect this from our tech. I think it will be beyond a carefully phrased, “Open A Christmas Carol”. I’m not sure we’ll quite be at “What’s new in sci fi?” level this year, but maybe. I think we should be at, “Open the last book”, though.
This is new this year…I’m splitting out less measurable, more trend thoughts into a different section. I’m also less sure about these.
Governments make more public domain titles available
Project Gutenberg is absolutely to be lauded, and the loss of founder Michael S. Hart was one of the sad stories this year. I think, though, that governments are going to spend tax dollars making mainstream classics available for digital download. Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles did a very interesting interview with Robert Darnton about the Digital Public Library of America. I may be a year early on this prediction, but I do think some other countries will move more quickly than we do. The British Library is definitely moving this way. This one will be hard to measure for success…but I think we may see some of the private industry public domain repository start to fade as this trend increases.
E-book sales growth rate eases
I think the growth rate continues to be good, but I think it may stop accelerating as much. Mass market paperbacks will continue to lose market share, and I would think we may see some famous imprints stop publishing MMPs (and that will get some discussion in the blogosphere). Hardback sales will also decrease (in terms of unit sales), but I do think they increase in price…wouldn’t surprise me if that was more than ten percent for bestsellers.
Control over what is on each Kindle
I think this has to happen in some way in 2012. I’m not quite sure what the implementation will be…but I think parents/legal guardians will be able to control what kids can see on their devices from the archives.
Color reflective screens
I think may be seen as a bit of a ho hum when it finally arrives this year…but I know I could be wrong on that (I don’t care that much about color). This would be color on a non-backlit screen. I’m guessing it will be in the market in the USA…the devices will sell, but it will be hard to keep the price low enough compared with a tablet that people don’t just go with that.
Kindles get better social features
I predicted that last year, and it didn’t really happen…but I’m still looking for it this year. This might be some kind of easy tie-in with your Facebook friends or Google Plus circles,. They could do something like NOOK friends: I do think Amazon would rather “grow their own” than just tie-in to existing systems. You’d be automatically sharing books you finished, notes, getting recommendations (“Your friends like…”) and so on.
Challengers to traditional publishing
Independent publishing, especially through platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing, will become more accepted. One big story for me this year will be keeping an eye on the traditional publishing Amazon is doing. They’ve invested a lot (some financially, some emotionally, some strategically) in their imprints: Montlake for romance, Thomas & Mercer for mysteries/thrillers, 47North for science fiction/fantasy/horror, and more. We’ll get a sense this year about how that is going. Will they make bestseller lists? Will they attract more big names?
Blended media and synergistic marketing
Books with audio and video? Sure…I think that will happen on the Amazon tablet(s), just as it does on iPads. However, I think we may also see books getting into more places. It may seem silly, but I can see reading a book on my TV screen while I do aerobics on my Wii Fit.
I’m now thinking we may see equal collection legislation (setting a national sales tax policy, but not a new national sales tax) passed this coming year..but with it going into effect after the Presidential election. That might be a way to get it done. I think the lawsuits about the Agency Model will settle out of court…and I hope the Agency Model really does end in 2012 or 2013, but that’s hard to say. I think the European Union will make find the Agency Model to be illegal. I think Amazon and M-Edge will become buddies again. The Google Settlement may have a resolution…or it may get postponed or tossed out. By the time it gets done, it could be that government digitizing give Google less bargaining power on it.
Update: I should talk about two more things…Amazon selling advertising on the Kindle Fire and an Amazon/Kindle branded cellphone. I think the former will definitely happen…and I have gotten reports that suggest they may be testing it now. I don’t think they’ll give us a price break on a Kindle Fire with ads…but it might be an opt in/opt out situation. I suggested a while back that Amazon might eventually do a phone, and there has been some talk about that. It’s possible they’ll announce one in 2012, but I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other.
Well, there you go! Predictions and speculation. As always, I predict there will be things I haven’t predicted.
What about you? What do you think is in store in 2012? Have I underestimated Kobo? Does Amazon overspend, and worry investors? Do mass market paperbacks make a comeback? What happens to brick-and-mortar bookstores? Used bookstores? How do the traditional publishers fare? Feel free to let me know by commenting on this post.
Happy new year!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.