Monday, June 07, 2010

Does it All Come Down to Electronic Publishing?

A lot has been said about the future of books will be digital. I suppose to many it seems that way -- although I can't think of anything stupider than buying an iPad (but what I think doesn't matter, if 10 milion of you out there buy them.) Nonetheless, the new digital frontier of publishing was at the forefront in New York City at BookExpo America.

Ultimately, consumers want freedom, said David Shanks, chief executive of leading publisher Penguin Group USA.

"Our fondest wish is that all the devices become agnostic so that there isn't proprietary formats and you can read wherever you want to read," Shanks told Reuters. "First we have to get a standard that everybody embraces."

The issue, he said, is the fear of piracy and how to set a common digital rights management system to thwart it.

The battle over technology formats is a familiar one. A century ago, Edison and Victor made records that could not be played on each other's players. There was the Betamax/VHS videotape struggle and more recently Blu-ray beat out HD DVD.
So, publishers -- as should be consumers -- are hesitant about embracing one universal technology and go the way of the Betamax. I can see how easy that would be...but not as financially devastating as all that. From the Times article:
Several large publishers said that e-books now make up aboit 8 percent of their total sales of trade books, a small but growing number. One publisher suggested that in five years e-books will make up more than half of the book market, a figure that some industry experts dismissed as far-fetched.

Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information, which provides research to publishers, gave a presentation titled “I’ll Never Pay More Than $9.99 for an E-Book! And Similar Lies.”

Mr. Norris said that in 2008, 56 percent of adults in the United States bought at least one print book. In 2009 the number increased to 57 percent.

“The hype never matches up with reality,” Mr. Norris said. “There’s money to be made in e-books. There’s money to be made in print books too. There’s no reason why publishers shouldn’t pursue both and just not let the hyperbole get out of control.”

Well, that was a refreshing change. I agree with Norris. I don't think the future is entirely digital, because not everyone likes to read digitally. I certainly don't, and it's not great for your eyes either. For me it's easier just to grab a paperback to read on the beach -- and if someone steps on it, it's not a big deal.

Although there are some new writer opportunities for publishing digitally, I haven't seen it rip wide open as some of my colleagues seemed to think it would. So far the digital revolution has been sadly civilized.

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