The Year in E-Books 2012

The Year in E-Books 2012

I’m going to look at some of the big things that happened this year (so far…you never know what Amazon will do in the last days of the year). If you want to see the details, please see the ever-expanding ILMK E-Books Timeline. For posts in this series for previous years, see The Year in E-Books category. For a more numerical comparison between 2012 and previous years, I’ll be doing my Annual Snapshot in the next several days.

Legal Actions

The US Department of Justice got settlements from four publishers (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin) in an Agency Model case this year (with one publisher, Macmillan, and Apple still fighting it). The  European Union’s European Commission got agreements. An action brought by the vast majority of US states was approved. The publishers spent so much money fighting the legal fights that it actually affected their quarterly reports. There will be more of this in 2013, and we should see the wrap up of the Agency Model in the USA (although class action suits might not be settled in 2013).

Library battles

There were a lot of news stories this year about publishers limiting the e-books that public libraries can license. It got pretty public and pretty ugly. There appears to me to be some weakening on the publishers’ side. I think this will continue to be a story, though. The very purpose of public libraries is now being debated: should they loan popular books to people who can afford them anyway? Should they focus on other functions? Is some sort of needs testing in the future? This will be a story still in 2013.

Amazon’s Global Expansion

Kindles and/or Kindle content expanded significantly in 2012. China got a store for Kindle e-books, Canada did, Brazil did, the Kindle Fire went international…this is only going to continue. When Britain’s Waterstones chose to go with Kindle, that was a blow for Barnes & Noble.

End of print editions

The Encyclopaedia Britannica and Newsweek both announced that they were going all digital. I expect we’ll see more of that in 2013.

Expanding availability

The Harry Potter books came to e-form, through a different sort of distribution model. Amazon acquired the Ian Fleming backlist of James Bond books. We continued to see more and more well-known backlist books make the jump. That will happen a lot more in 2013, partially due to an element of copyright law in the USA which will return rights to authors in some cases.

Team ups

Microsoft invested a ton of money in Barnes & Noble. Right at the end of the year, so did Pearson, the textbook publisher (although not nearly as much ,and just in the NOOK business…thanks to a reader for heads up in a private e-mail about that. Random House and Penguin have submitted merger plans to regulatory agencies. We may continue to see conglomeration in 2013, and people try to deal with Amazon’s size in the e-book world.


Frontlit devices were one of the real stories. Barnes & Noble introduced the Glowlight in April, and Amazon followed with the Paperwhite in September. This suggested continued support for E Ink devices. There were conflicting analyses about whether E Ink was doomed or flourishing. Eventually, I think we’ll get devices which can switch back and forth (what I call “dualume”). My guess is that we’ll continue to see E Ink supported for the near future. Tablets, of course, were everywhere. Barnes & Noble and Amazon both introduced new models, and Apple did the mini. I think there’s quite a bit of room for the market to expand still, and yes, that will cannibalize some sales from reflective screen devices (like E Ink) in the next few years.

Game Changers?

Amazon introduced two new features which have the potential to really change the game, although they may not be there yet. One is Whispercast, which enables large groups of devices on the same account to be managed more easily. I think that’s got to expand, and could really give Amazon a leg up in the enterprise market. We need to have it come to personal accounts as well, though. The other one is Kindle Freetime Unlimited, and “all you can eat” subscription service for kids. Pay a monthly fee, get unlimited access to a curated selection. That’s just opening the door to what could be really interesting business models in the future.

There were a lot of other interesting stories, not the least of which was the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which had started out as self-published fan fiction (fanfic). The fact that it went to a major publisher and was so successful suggests, as I’ve said before, a very different “farm system” for the tradpubs (traditional publishers). The rise of the indies, even if it means they get co-opted, is a large part of the future, especially if other traditional publishers merge. What do you think? Have I missed listing anything really important here? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

In the next few days, I’ll look ahead to 2013 in a separate post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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