Late last week, one of the largest music labels announced that its sales of digital files exceeded the revenue generated by CDs. As reported in the New York Times, Altantic Records saw 51% of its sales generated by digital sales. This was significantly more than Atlantic’s parent company, Warner Music Group, which reported only 27% of its total sales from digital distribution.
It should come as no surprise that digital music is quickly replacing physical media. One need only think of the weight and mess of thousands of CDs, versus a nearly unlimited amount on an iPod or streaming on demand. The question is when will other media follow? Some magazines are slowly getting rid of print in favor of online. It will be some time before display technology exceeds the user experience of print on paper. In some ways scholarly journal publishing is already headed down this path. The rest of publishing is slower to adapt. However, several tipping points will likely be reached fairly soon.
* – Display technology needs to improve, so that the user experience is comparable to print
* - Standardization around some from of reader, or at least a common file format working on different devices
* - A Napster-like social movement among the broader tech-savvy early adopters (not regarding free distribution, necessarily) which pushes e-books and the like to digital.
* – A breadth and depth of available content to make the purchase of the reader worthwhile.
* – Mass production of readers so that they are no longer $300+
* – Preservation strategies need to be improved
Many of these issues are consensus based and awaiting either standards or adoption of existing standards.