One important aspect of the transformation is that it is a huge enabler for creating and publishing independent ("indie") content. The physical CD, tape or record for music, and the physical book were substantial obstacles to independent song-writers and authors. They cost money to produce, money to ship, money to find places to display and sell, and were expensive to produce in small quantities. While it was possible to download music and books over the Internet to a computer before the release of the iPod and kindle, it was clunky and limiting.
I've been interested in indie publishing of music ever since I originally produced my two albums. They were produced before the release of the iPod. They each costs thousands of dollars to record and produce. The ultimate "product" was 1,000 CDs of each, a few hundred of which are still sitting in my attic (I've since uploaded them to last.fm (here and here) where they are available for free). Producing those same albums would've cost one-tenth as much and taken half the time with today's technology.
There have been a lot of songs published at this point. For example, there are currently more than 25 million songs available from iTunes alone. There are possibly approaching 100 million published songs worldwide representing a good fraction of a billion minutes of listening enjoyment (for comparison, we only live about 40 million minutes).
The related milestone of interest is that iTunes recently sold its 25 billionth song and the math here should be a bit scary for any song-writer hoping to make money creating music. While 25 billion songs is a lot of songs, it's only an average of 1,000 sales per song. At 99 cents per song, that's an average revenue of less than $1,000 per song.
The revenue per song will likely drop and drop rapidly. Music tastes don't change very rapidly and songs have a pretty long shelf life. There are now multiple songs published per minute and with each new song, the number of ears per song drops. This, more than anything else, will force nearly all recorded music to be offered for free within the next few decades.
Fortunately, a song-writer/musician can make money performing. A major act performing in a large venue generates revenues of millions of dollars per show. Unknown groups can still sometimes get a toehold playing clubs and parties. In some sense, the recorded music for these groups acts as marketing and advertising and has value to the artists even if no revenue is generated from sales of the recorded music.
It looks to me like the book industry is a decade or two behind the music industry but following the same trajectory. Here's a quick excerpt to put it in perspective:
That means it’s possible that 15,000,000 books could be published in 2012. 15,000,000. Yikes. (The truth is, though, there is no way of extrapolating from the data how many books will actually be published. Some ISBNs don’t get used, some titles have a different ISBN for every edition, and some ebooks are published without ISBNs. As a frame of reference, 407,000 ISBNs were issued in 2007.))
Google estimates that as of August 2010, there were 129,864,880 books in existence. Which means that the total number of books that could be published in 2012 is more than 1/10 of all the books in existence. That is an unfathomable jump, a 500% increase in a single year.
Furthermore, contemplate that Project Gutenberg already has more than 42,000 free books in their digital library and are releasing dozens more per day. They pick the most popular classics of all time so they alone can keep the most avid reader quite entertained, for free, forever.
Just like ears per song, the number of eyes per word is plummeting. Just like music, the vast majority of novels will eventually be free due to overwhelming market forces.
Unlike music, the novelist has one advantage that the song-writer does not. The novelist can write a sequel whereas music rarely has a compelling order. Once a reader is 'hooked' on the first free book, the novelist can earn money from all of the books in the rest of the series. For example, even if Rowling was unable to charge for Harry Potter 1, she certainly would've been able to make good money from the other 6 books.
I only read books (for entertainment) that have sequels. Once I put effort in to learning the world and the characters, I want to know there's more. Here’s my current book finding algorithm:
- Goto amazon kindle books
- Select genre of interest
- Select 4 stars or more average
- Sort low price to high price (at least the first several hundred books will be free)
- Ignore books with less than 20 reviews.
- Ignore books that aren’t the first in a series.
- Ignore books with titles that aren’t appealing (I’m not too picky).
- Ignore books with covers that aren’t appealing (I’m not too picky).
If I like the book, I'll buy the rest of the series.
This method has worked pretty well for me so far. However, my current favorite SF/Fantasy series (the first in the series is Outcasts and Gods) I found by a different method. The author (Pam Uphoff) made an insightful comment at a blog I read where many (most?) of the participants are authors. I tracked down her books and I've really enjoyed them. This is similar to how I found song-writer Jeff Shattuck. With regards to the government takeover of GM, he wrote in a comment somewhere that "The Road to Serfdom is best traveled in a GM or Chrysler".
But, in the end, the huge volume of content being generated is going to make it very difficult for content providers to make money. Content wants to be free!