One of the big questions that has plagued the publishing industry is how large is the ebook market? Will it consume the print market? Will it make bookstores unprofitable?
For example, since the early 1980s, people have predicted the death of the cheque book. The market size for the cheques (ie number of cheques written) is certainly smaller BUT it still exists. The fact that banks still produce cheques means that some company somewhere is making money printing the cheques.
When markets are in flux, lots of things happen. Winners and losers. People can be seduced by great rates of growth without really considering market size. This happened during the early days of the Internet when certain Internet start up ventures were given huge valuations. Bubbles and mania ensued. Some (such as Amazon) have gone on to great things, others have folded.
The rise of Internet bookbuying has had a profound effect on bricks and mortar stores. The economies of scale come into play. What other things drive people to bookstores? Bordedom during lunch? Hours to kill while waiting for children to complete activities? Nobody really knows what is going on and people's predictions keep being blown out of the water.
One of the best places to learn about such things (if you are interested) is Mike Shatzkin's blog. He did a great blog the other day about ebooks tipping points as well as one about the trouble with the industry saying that you *buy* an ebook (you don't, you are licensed to use one -- a problem IF the ebook provider suddenly goes under but that is a whole other concern). The ebook tipping point blog had my jaw on the floor. I knew they were expecting huge growth rates, but Sourcebooks (a small independent publisher who has recently gone into the romance genre in a big way) had 35% of its incoming dollars in January 11 from ebooks. The slides showing the growth are incredible. The BIG question is does this growth continue or was it an uptick because of Christmas presents. Ebook readers surpassed sales expectations at Christmas. Will people keep using them? And will others buy them at the same rate? How will that effect margins etc? Are more people moving towards buying all their books (print and electronic) online? Is browsing in a bookstore a dying activity? Or merely confined to certain places?
I am very grateful that my publisher Harlequin is ahead of the curve and determined to remain there.
The one thing that will not change is that ebooks like print books merely deliver the content. Authors create the content and ultimately that comes down to the author's imagination.