While I owned a small publishing company some time back I did not involve myself with magic books because I thought the intense editorial attention necessary and potential sales numbers were too low to justify the time taken away from books that would sell multiple thousands for books that would sell in far fewer numbers.
At the time I researched the numbers the average magic book was selling 1,000 units and not always quickly. Some publishers printed editions of 500 aimed at more narrowly focused markets, sometimes going back for a second run of 500 that didnt always sell out.
As time passed, the market became saturated with product, something Jon Racherbaumer wrote about some years back. Given that the market remained more or less the same size, saturation simply meant fewer sales, given that there were always limited discretionary monies to be spent on product. That discretionary money became diluted by product and we saw, for the first time in amateur magic history, books being discounted to the buying public.
While a few titles in magic have sold more than 1,000 units, their numbers are few. A handful of titles have, I believe, sold in multiple thousands and they have done so over a long period of time. Their authors are names in amateur magicor the current flavor of the day. I know of one title that has sold around 20,000 copies, but that has been over something like a decade and the re-print runs were 2,000 at a time. There are not many titles like that and most magic books seem to have a life of around 1,000 units with maybe an additional print runs years later, if at all, witness the time it took for certain Kaufman titles to come back into print. Todd Karr still runs editions of 1,000 as does Caveney.
While eBooks allow for the option of keeping a title available forever (I wont say in print because they arent, they are available), in Chriss model, the buyer is required to pay nearly the same amount of money as a printed book to have less in hand than if he paid the additional $8 for printing and got a DVD along with the hardbound book. There doesnt seem to be any benefit to the customer in saving a mere $8.
While eBooks have the additional benefit of hypertext and implanted movies, it remains to be seen if people are willing to trade out the convenience of a printed book for the perceived benefits of hypertext and moving illustrations. I think, in many ways, were talking about apples and oranges. The fact that many/most of the worlds science journals are produced electronically merely speaks to the fact that journals provide information to their readers more efficiently in electronic form, that libraries simply do not have the room to store decades of journals that will be read occasionally or rarely, and that the majority of readers of scientific journals have access to and are comfortable with reading material on a screen. The market for science journals is a model that does not apply to magic books except in the idea of preserving and making available old magic journals.
Chris has done a marvelous job in making The Sphinx available to new generations of readers for a fraction of the price that obtaining the real magazines would cost. For less than $500 one can read information that, in printed form, would run $4-6,000 and is generally unobtainable, regardless of the price as only a handful of complete sets exist.
If ePublishers want to capitalize on the potential for eBooks, one of the things they should do, and something I believe Chris has done in many instances, is to make the price well-below what a printed and bound copy would run. This is especially attractive for old and hard to find items where the information is of primary importance, not the book as an artifact. Ive bought several things from Chris that fit into that category. I spent a small amount of money and had what I wanted almost instantly. For the researcher who wants the information, nothing is more efficient.
A couple of years ago Byron Walker gave me a tour of his library. What Byron has is the end result of the hard work of Earl Rybolt, Lloyd Jones, and himself.three men working over decades to amass a library such as can be found few, if any other place in the world. Libraries like that have always been the province of a handful of individuals with the finances and drive to accumulate such collections. However, with the digital age, Byrons may be the last of its kind as Ask Alexander looms large on the horizon.
Ask Alexander, a massive database of scanned magic books and magazines, puts a large question to the idea of individual e-books in the first place. Not now, and not in the next few years, but when the price for access to Ask Alexander drops to the point where the average magician can afford a yearly subscription possibly in one specialized area of interest like cards, coins, illusions, etc., - when the hobbyist can have access to an entire library of information that he could not possibly create in his lifetime for any amount of money that will be the time when the market for eBooks and printed books to a great degree, will be determined.
This will require a change in how we view books, not as artifacts to collect and posses, but as devices to impart information. When cheap and easy access to the material combines with easy to store and read devices that at least mimic the action of reading a book, when the hunt changes fully to a desire for information as opposed to a hunt for information AND a printed artifact, then, and only then, will digital publishing come of age.