…with the hi-def TV behind the bar showing a Blu-ray movie…

Time to update Three new things walked into a bar…, as promised.

Marketplace impact

  1. There are Blu-ray players in some 10.5 million homes. Publishers expect to sell about 100 million Blu-ray discs this year. For popular new releases, Blu-ray now represents roughly 10% of sales–and, overall, it’s up to roughly 8%. That already makes it a billion-dollar business (take your choice: either players or discs). Since disc prices are dropping and store-brand player prices are already below $200, those numbers seem likely to continue increasing rapidly.
  2. There are apparently between 700 thousand and a million people using FriendFeed, although that number–like most online numbers, particularly for social media sites that can be used without actually joining–are heavily suspect. Let’s say 700,000 for now. Revenue from those users, to be sure, is zero.
  3. Nobody knows how many Kindles have been sold, but most estimates range around half a million. Amazon is no more likely to release revenue numbers for Kindle-specific ebooks than they are to release actual Kindle figures–but the best estimate I’ve seen for total ebook sales (including everything) is around $16 million for Q1 2009, let’s say $50 million for 2008 total–which is, to be sure, an enormous improvement over previous years.

So by my calculations, Blu-ray is used by about ten times as many people as Friendfeed, which is used by maybe twice as many people as Kindle. Blu-ray is at or nearing mass-market status. Neither one is anywhere near that level.

“Success” and game-changer

Here’s the perception issue, and I’d say most gurus and people measuring heat would rank the three in exactly the reverse order–that is, Kindle’s hottest and most successful, Friendfeed’s a distant second, and Blu-ray is a boring failure. Readers here paint a slightly more complex picture.

It’s interesting that GeekChic assumes FriendFeed has the most users (and Steve L. gets the numbers roughly right without checking them). I find Mike’s response most typical of digital gurus, including snide universalisms: “(Who would knowingly purchase a CD today?)” Well, 68% of music sales in the U.S. in 2008 were still physical, as were 80% worldwide (and 90% in Europe)–so apparently two out of three buyers still “knowingly purchase” CDs. I’ll counter Mike’s prediction: I think Blu-ray will do just fine for quite a few years–at the very least until it’s feasible for most Americans to download Blu-ray quality video. Even then, there are still tens of millions of us who actually like to own some of our entertainment… I’d also question Mike’s assurance that we’re headed for “basic changes in how we purchase and read books”–but I think that, here again, Mike falls into the “digital conquers all” category, which certainly puts him in good company. I happen to disagree.

One footnote on the inevitable triumph of new technologies: Vinyl LP sales were the highest in 2008 that they’ve been since 1991. Admittedly, that’s just under two million albums, but it’s an interesting figure nonetheless–and two million albums represents a respectable small business.

Libraries going out of their way…

Every library is different. I’d bet there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of U.S. public libraries already circulating Blu-ray discs (I could be wrong). I’d guess a fair number of libraries will have patron requests for Blu-ray discs this year. I doubt that there are many libraries actually circulating Blu-ray players; that’s not usually the job of a public library.

Which makes it all the odder that a few public libraries are buying Kindles and circulating them–but who am I to argue with well-informed local decisions?

4 Responses to “…with the hi-def TV behind the bar showing a Blu-ray movie…”

  1. Abigail Says:

    Your timing on this is interesting, I put a query on Publib a few days ago about who was collecting mp3 cds and Blu-Ray. I didn’t get a high number of responses (less than a dozen) but of the libraries I heard from only one mentioned collecting Blu-Ray and that librarian said patrons had pushed back about where the library was getting money for the more expensive format. Three had mp3 cds but at least one mentioned patron frustration that their car and home players wouldn’t take them. We’re not purchasing either format just yet.

    Several libraries responded that they prefer to focus on downloadable digital media rather than the new disc formats. Will be interesting to follow over the next two-five years.

  2. walt Says:

    It will. I wonder why patrons are pushing back on $25-$30 Blu-rays–I mean, $5 is barely “more expensive!” But hey, whatever. I’m not surprised several libraries prefer to focus on downloadable digital media. Maybe that will work out fine, but, well, when it comes to libraries, circulation, DRM and downloadable digital, “Be careful what you wish for” is not the worst advice in the world.

    I don’t have much of a horse in this race. I do think “downloadable everything” is being wildly oversold, and that “incorporeal is always better” is even more oversold–I’d say “digital is always better,” but Blu-ray is just as digital as downloads. If I’m wrong about the likely survival and moderate success of Blu-ray, I’m wrong; I’ve been wrong before.

    Who knows? Maybe American broadband will magically, suddenly increase in speed by a factor of 10 and the newly-enlightened cable and other providers won’t attempt to gouge on price or control usage, and providers of digital data will abandon DRM. (But can’t you catch flu from those flocks of pigs flying overhead?)

  3. GeekChic Says:

    Interesting! I hear a great deal about Twitter and its variants whereas our recent patron survey showed almost no interest in Blu-Ray on the part of our public - so that’s where my mistake came from.

  4. walt Says:

    GeekChic: Perfectly understandable. The Twitterati make lots of noise, particularly online–and there’s a deep-seated, you could almost say “Wired-in” (capitalization fully intentional) bias among many commentators toward “everything downloadable” without regard to consequences. (That magic word “inevitable” shows up a lot as well.)