I've blogged before about the decline in book readership. In fact, the number of book stores has dropped some 20% in the last 3 years. It's not that people don't want to be learned. Rather, people no longer prefer to carry around a full length paper book. What was no big deal has become large, cumbersome and heavy. This isn't how we described books until we started reading everything imaginable on electronic devices. The new solutions made the old approach less desirable. The market shifted. And if books weren't available electronically, people would read other things which are available electronically.
Amazon wisened up and launched Kindle to meet this market shift. Good move, it allowed Amazon to keep growing while traditional format product sales declined. Now "Barnes & Noble launches on-line Kindle challenge" is the Financial Times headline. While Amazon keeps pushing new content onto Kindle, including newspapers and magazines, Barnes & Noble is maximizing the platforms it can reach electronically. Their solution, more software than hardware today, allows them to immediately offer 700,000 titles electronically. They now boast the largest on-line book store – somewhat eclipsing Amazon's early success. And their hardware device is yet to come.
Should Amazon be worried. I don't think so. The market for e-reading is growing extremely fast. With each new product generation the traditional market share shrinks as more people convert. At this stage, these companies are merely helping the market grow rather than competing with each other. That's the wonderful part about growth markets, – about being in the Rapids – there's so much new demand that it's less about competing head-to-head than about expanding the market by meeting more and more needs. Instead of slogging it out in trench warfare – which is the traditional book selling market – you can offer more features and ways to differentiate – thus growing the market. For both Amazon and Barnes & Noble this is a very, very good thing. It breathes growth into their businesses by moving into the shifted market space.
Borders was actually first to this market, linking up with the proprietary eReader from Sony. But Borders didn't move hard into the new market. As the weakest of the 3 leading book retailers, Borders should have moved fast to get out of the dying brick-and-mortar stores. Then used those resouces to take an early lead in the new market space. But the leaders at Borders kept trying to Defend & Extend the old business, and moved too slowly on the new business. Instead of getting out of the dying business, and becoming #1 in the growing business, they waited. Oops. Now Borders is again the weak competitor – and at grave risk of extermination.
The market is shifting. Congratulations to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for moving into the shifted market space. Quickly we'll be seeing fewer and fewer book stores on the street, as this business (similar to music) will become largely an on-line business. And better for us all. With cheaper books and other reading materials, maybe we'll continue to be even better read than previous generations.
Soon publishers and authors will have to step up to this shift. We all know that newspapers and magazines have been slow to adjust to this market shift. They should be begging for distribution on the Kindle device – and pushing B&N to get their device out even faster so periodicals can be distributed to them. Or maybe get their issues into the B&N software so people can read them on their laptops, netbooks or iPhones. The publishers, from newspapers to books, have been slow to understand this changed market. They, like recording publishers, are locked-in to the physical product (the CD for music, and paper for publishers). The winners will be those who move fastest to the new market. Sure, some people will always want print. But the market for digital is simply going to be lots, lots bigger. Best to get into that market today and figure out the new business model.