Last week, the Wiley Agency which represents several esteemed authors including Norman Mailer, Vladmir Nabokov and Salman Rushdie among others, signed an exclusive e-book distribution deal with Amazon for 20 eBooks including Lolita.
This move heralds the first direct to consumer deal for eBooks (as far as I know) and recalls the some of the early disruptive music efforts of Radiohead, Wilco and others to forgo the onerous contracts of the record labels.
Over the next few months, premium eBooks will move in fits and starts toward direct to consumer distribution. Already, free books have shown us electronic distribution works on Amazon where of the top 10 free eBooks, 8 of them have 4 or more stars. Though Amazon doesn’t release download figures, I’d hazard a bet that free downloads outnumber paid by an order of magnitude and have similar quality to paid best sellers.
While the newspaper industry took 20 years to suffer the impact of electronic disruption (see above), it’s very likely that the publishing industry will see a much broader and quicker decline. Such a shift will likely be more reminiscent of music sales falling 33% in 4 years (see chart below), unless big publishing houses pivot and embrace digital content distribution – lest the publishing houses cede control over distribution to Amazon much the way the record labels ceded it to now behemoth, Apple’s iTunes.