I am sure some of you have seen this already. eCampus News put out their list of the five most significant developments/stories in higher-education technology during the past year. The #1 development/story (even ahead of all of the Google-library-bookscanning news) is that “Digital textbooks open a new chapter in the history of higher education.” All of the press coming out of the CES show this year about e-readers should also be heightening the concern among book retailers who are still only thinking about physical sales of physical books via a physical location.
2010-2011 should be transitional years for this technology as the first “SmartBooks” are being announced at CES – a new product category that will likely replace e-reader devices as they currently exist. There are several interesting innovations here – and most are geared toward textbooks and student usage. The latest rumor is that Apple is projecting to sell 10 million units in the next year – reasonable given sales of 13.5M iphones in the first year. Although this time I think Apple will have some competition. With that many devices, people will want content. E-textbook sales that have been lackluster to this point could be about to hit the knee of the curve—hard. In 2007 we predicted about 5 years to see e-textbooks have a real impact on the higher ed market. The next two years will be the beginning of that impact to be felt. Many other players are moving into online e-book sales recognizing that most books in the future will likely be sold via online channels rather than store channels, and setting up an online store is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive.
So, some good news for campus booksellers amongst all of this – we are making progress in NMS. We are on schedule to have a number of positive announcements by the time we reach CAMEX. However, the importance of industry education and change management related to the future of these technologies cannot be underestimated. 2010-2014 will be the pivotal years where the fate of physical booksellers will likely either follow that of record/music stores, or create a positive example that other organizations and industries will want to follow. The time to act in an emerging technology market is before other players can take the market away from you. College stores must not let the current low volume of e-textbook sales lull our own actions into complacency. The clock is ticking too quickly for that.