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Book Publishers Mull Over The Changes To The Industry

 4:12 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Book Publishers Mull Over The Changes To The Industry [reuters.com]
The world's book trade will meet in Frankfurt next week on the brink of a long-feared transformation of the industry for which few are well prepared.

Electronic reading devices like Amazon's Kindle are set to enter the mass market, starting with a surge in sales this Christmas holiday season, helped by lower prices, rising consumer confidence and better distribution outside the United States.

Like the music and newspaper industries before it, the book-publishing world now faces vanishing revenues as sales of physical discs, papers and books give way to far cheaper or free digital distribution.

"Meantime, publishers are distracting themselves by fretting over the price of eBooks, withholding eBook releases so as not to cannibalize hardcover book sales, and watching helplessly as their businesses erode in front of them," analyst Sarah Rotman Epps of technology research firm Forrester wrote this week.

The sooner they embrace new technology, the better it'll be for them, imho.

One of the key issues, for me, is the standardization of content delivery. It's this that they need to get their act together over.



 4:48 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

As one who emerged from the printing industry . . . isn't this about 10 years too late?


 8:27 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Those dinosaurs who adapted and evolved into what we now know as birds survived. Those who stayed and struggled to not change: well there's some imprints of their bones in ancient rocks. Archeologists dig them up every so often.

Think history has a very clear lesson: Wanna be a dinosaur and not change? Get ready to be extinct.

The future is not the kindle, iPod, iTunes, amazon, ... the future lies beyond them, they are a mere step in the direction we'll take. Trying to desperately to hold it back: it'll work for a while, but time is running out. There's a breaking point where people will not take their arrogant protectionism anymore and demand legislative changes outlawing the "dinosaurs" that are stopping progress.


 9:45 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Curling up by the fire with your kindle just doesn't sound right. :(


 11:50 pm on Oct 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

Curling up by the fire with your kindle...

Oh but even today you can buy vinyl records, if you somehow like that better.

The biggest risk to those selling the "antique" variant is not progress and the next solution (the same company -if run by somebody smart- can do both), it is that the public at large -their customers! (potential and actual) turn against them.
E.g. the music industry is doing that very heavily, like they are on a mission: alienating their customers. E.g. Just the mere hint of a threat of with a lawsuit can throw all friendliness out the window.


 1:57 am on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Playing a Strat through a solid state amp doesn't sound right either.


 7:40 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

The sooner they embrace new technology, the better it'll be for them, imho.

There are a few publishers who specialise in out of copyright titles, or who rely on them very heavily. A lot of them will be out of a job as soon as these devices get much cheaper. Especially when schools start to adopt them.


 8:47 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

books don't have to die out. people think that the words are the product, but maybe the book is.

you wouldn't go into a restaurant and buy a pill that tastes like steak and kidney pie, even if it is ten times cheaper and more convenient. you want the food.

people will still buy books to stick on their shelves. a whole row of kindles doesn't look too good.

and pop-up books won't work on the kindle. or colouring books.


 11:49 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wanna be a dinosaur and not change? Get ready to be extinct.

Extinction is NOT the end of the world :)

Baruch Menachem

 2:35 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

I kind of thing the out of copyright stuff will be the salvation of the industry. I much prefer having a hard copy to read over more than 10 minutes.

And I just like the appearance of a library.


 6:06 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

and pop-up books won't work on the kindle. or colouring books.

This was our biggest complaint when they wanted to eliminate vinyl records, I still have lots of them who's covers are amazing to explore.

However, I have one word for you that will probably change everything . . . .

Holograph. It's not that far off.


 8:03 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

people will still buy books to stick on their shelves. a whole row of kindles doesn't look too good.

I love books, but shelf space is really an issue. As in, if I want new ones I have to find somewhere to put them, and that usually means reluctantly parting with some, or moving to a bigger house. So getting an ebook reader will mean being able to buy without worrying about storage, or dusting, or the fact that my house is becoming a total firetrap, or all of the other little things that come with owning an ever-expanding library.

What I imagine will happen is that initially we'll see a division between the types of books that do well on ebooks, and the rest. Perhaps our local bookstores will fill with coffee-table books, children's board books and attractive hardback editions, before they diversify or go bust.


 8:49 pm on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

Oh but even today you can buy vinyl records

Swa's right - print books won't disappear for a long time.

Publishing forms are very persistent. Paper did not destroy the market for engraved stone tablets (been to a graveyard lately?). Even vellum is still used in a few rare circumstances - British Acts of Parliament are recorded on vellum as are some luxury editions of Jewish scrolls.

But these are specialty uses and I think it's inevitable that ink on paper bound in a book is destined to become a specialty use and publishers who don't plan for that will see a huge drop.

The scary thing is how fast this will happen. E-readers are sort of like digicams 15 years ago or so - for serious photographers not even close to a match for film with no sign that it would ever match 35mm. Now most pro photographers that I know only shoot film for large format and never carry a 35mm camera.

It amazed me how quickly that happened and I think publishers who don't prepare for a similarly rapid changeover (once a certain critical quality level is met) will, as Swa said, go extinct. The thing is, the majority of those who *do* try to prepare, will fail and will go out of business as well.


 11:13 pm on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

As a former bookstore owner, voracious reader, and book collector, I'd like to believe that books aren't going anywhere. I buy and read books all the time.

But like vinyl records, a few afficiandos won't keep the market afloat. If everyone's reading kindle's - and by all accounts kindles seem to make believers even out of book readers - then there's one possible death knell for the book. I know the publishers originally tried to fight back (10+ years ago) with print on demand, but nothing really has come of that.

The problem isn't just the novel. It's everything else. I used to spend thousands on computer books. That's got to be a dead industry these days. Textbooks - if they're still printing those, they're not long for this world. A lot of the big money technical type books are rapidly disappearing or under heavy pressure (you think students want to pay $1000 for books, or $100 for a 6 month license?) leaving mostly just the stuff we want to read for pleasure and entertainment. And even for that stuff, I suspect I'll be a late adopter when I move over to audiobooks - I can listen to them on the treadmill.

If publishers were smart (and they don't seem to be) they'd be putting all of their money into some sort of opensource reader program or some other method of disseminating writings (rather than leave it to amazon). They control the distribution and the authors, that's what's vital for them, not the medium. But focusing on the medium they're going to miss the boat.


 12:45 am on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

The problem isn't just the novel.

Swami hat going on and staring into my crystal ball...

The literary novel will be one of the forms that hang on the longest in print, because there will be collectors, but obviously, in numbers much much reduced from today and insufficient to support many bookstores. When a bibliophile enters someone's house, they check out the bookshelf before anything else.

So "collector" books - coffee table photo books, special editions - will last longest, but people will buy these as gifts and a lot will come from places other than traditional bookstores (like buying a wines of the world book on a wine tour, but not at a bookstore).

"Statement" books, which includes novels, great philosphers, etc will have some holding power because of the desire to display one's great culture and erudition, like in that movie where Woody Allen runs around opening the Critique of Pure Reason and putting it down on the coffee table.

Textbooks - if they're still printing those

Total racket. My niece just spent WAY more than $1000 on required textbooks for her first semester. Fine, nursing maybe evolves rapidly and they need to keep publishing new books. But the accounting 101 textbook at her school is $199 (one of 3 books required for the course). The linear algebra text is $90. Come on! Has linear algebra changed? Can't this be a royalty free, public domain ebook?


 5:42 pm on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

withholding eBook releases so as not to cannibalize hardcover book sales,

<sarcasm>That worked out so well for the music and movie industry. </sarcasm>

Granted it's a little harder to get a print publication into a digital format but it only takes one person to do it and its all over after that.


 5:56 pm on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

and what will happen to libraries? we may as well knock those ghost towns down now. they will probably be replaced by a cash-machine like hole in the wall socket that we plug our kindles into.


 7:24 pm on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

what will happen to libraries?

I don't know much about small public libraries, but I have decent handle on what's happening in big libraries.

They have been suffering since before the internet. Major research libraries are beholden to periodical publishers. I remember in the late 80s or early 90s, the dollar slid against European currencies which meant that the entire acquisition budget of some of the best research libraries in the country was allocated to paying subscriptions and they literally couldn't buy any books.

The research library has not been viable for quite some time because academic publishers insist on creating paper versions of periodicals and books with worldwide circulations of a few hundred copies. It means no library can collect current scholarly offerings and that the books are expensive.

Electronic publishing is the best hope for taking some of the pressure off. Aside from politics, universities are among the most conservative places in the world, and they are resistant to taking electronic publications seriously, but that's changing slowly and will be the only thing that will allow academic publishing to continue in its current form with respect to content (i.e. changing the format will allow similar materials to get published, rather than sticking to the dead trees format and having everything crumble under the crushing cost and horrible economics).

Meanwhile, Google Books is fast on the way to becoming the best research library in the world for historians and other scholars who study the past in some fashion (literature, philosophy, etc). The Open Content Alliance is far behind, but wants to create a similar, non-commercial archive. Other efforts are creating paid online archives of journals.

In terms of research libraries, this is a major democratizer of information. Rather than having to travel to Europe or one of 2 or 3 libraries in the US that have books that I consult, I can simply download them and own a copy.

Google is going after not just public domain, but orphan books [opencontentalliance.org] and for commercially available books wants to achieve charge for access in a revenue sharing agreement with authors. Again, this is controversial in many aspects [thepublicindex.org].

At the same time, electronic journals are not a panacea. Only part of the cost of a journal is tied up in paper, so there are still substantial costs. As more and more libraries subscribe to their journals in electronic format, this creates new opportunities and financial stresses. Small libraries can have access to far more journals then ever before. On the other hand, these are typically "all or nothing" subscription models, so they pay for periodicals they don't want. And if a periodical dies, they still have to pay for access, whereas if they had it on the shelves, they could have it there forever.


 10:24 pm on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Are there those who think that all this ink on paper has got to go,

...because it makes revising history far too difficult?


 11:19 pm on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)


I'm actually a historian by profession, so not insensitive to those types of concerns.

That said, it's easier to ban or burn 1000 copies of a book (especially if you nab them all at the publishers) or firebomb 10 major libraries (and thus lose many books that exist in only one copy) than it is to pull back 1000s of digital copies.

The bigger issue is that far more historical documents disappear through accident than through censorship. Countless archives were destroyed during WWI and WWII. The city of Florence had some of the richest criminal archives in the world. They survived wars and fires over many centuries. The Florence Flood of 1966 wiped these out just as historians were starting to get interested in that type of history. The National Library was devastated and had mud up to 22 feet deep in places. 37 miles of documents from the State Archives were caught in the flood.

The big problem with digital storage is really more the issue of what happens to these books when nobody has software to read PDFs anymore.

I have computer files that are 10 years old and have no way to access them. Meanwhile, I go to the archives and open up 500 year-old manuscripts and read them with no special software. On the downside, it takes years of experience and practice to read handwritten documents that are five centuries old.

Anyway, your comment makes me think you would enjoy Stewart Brand's book, Clock of the Long Now (great read).


 7:49 pm on Oct 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

The key is to adapt a pricing and protection mechanism as fast as possible, and make everything available as electronic data. Book sales might go down a bit, but won't disappear: people like paper in their hands.


 10:34 pm on Oct 14, 2009 (gmt 0)

What puzzles me is that a lot of people think books will make the move to E-Readers like the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader. (I own an iRex 1000, open platform pdf's only at the moment but a book-sized screen at least. Pricey, but I could justify it.)
The Kindle is not a technologically-driven solution. It's a solution to the copyright issues. How long that will be necessary, who knows. I'm not sure copyright will last in its present form for that many decades more. Something has to give, we'll see what the *that* is.
Anyway, I'm all set up permanently with the e-reader of the future, it's called a browser. Everyone should get one.


 12:15 am on Oct 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

I like etexts (my eyes have become just bad enough the ability to scale fonts is a blessing), yet I do not see one of the perfect inventions of humankind vanishing: Books do not require a power source. Can be read by candle light (one candle even), are not subject to memory/drive loss, or other electronic failures. Books will survive... perhaps not as popular to the "powered" masses, but will be essential to the unpowered parts of the world.

And yes, we can lose much and this "deal" is a way to keep it available... but I don't like the current setup and am eagerly waiting to see what the revision/legislation might provide. I say that as an author.


 7:48 am on Oct 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think with books the same will happen as with music:

E-books will become popular and many publishers will refuse to publish their books as e-book. Out of fear it will be copied. Of course the end will be that the only source to get certain books as e-book will be to get them illegaly - and that will exactly be what people will do. And all because some people are to stupid to see all the advantages of new technology.

For me the future are e-book readers like Kindle. You sit at home, reading a book review in the newspaper or hearing on television who won the noble price in literature - 60 seconds later you already have the books to read on your e-book reader.

With e-books, publisher could double or triple their sales. Becaues it is actually not so easy to exchange books as with printed books. If someone comes by and asks you - "Hey are you finished with the new Dan Brown novel?" What are you going to do? Hand over your Kindle or Sony Reader and say: Here take it, along with my 356 other books and bring it back when you are finished? Even members of the same household are more likely to buy several copies of a book. And of course there is less risk for publishers: Now they print ten thousand copies, and there is always the risk they will only sell a thousand.

Of course e-books make the author less dependant on publishers - but it won't make the obsolete. For a book to be successful you will still need editors and proper marketing.


 5:15 pm on Oct 15, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wow. I stand corrected about what I wrote about the exchange of books. I just noticed that I can download books and magazines from my local library online as Epub files. However the file expires after a certain amount of time and there is only a limited amount of downloads available. Most books are available once, and as long as someone else still has "lended" a file, nobody else can lend it.


 5:22 pm on Oct 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

I work for a newspaper, and it's absolutely mind-blowing how much resistance there is to new technology from the oldtimers.

I heard a story about a manager that worked here about 10-15 years ago. One of the first things he did is spend part of his department's budget on typewriters. Nope, not the electronic ones, but the old-style models.


 12:06 am on Oct 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

At least your reporters could work during a power outage ;-)

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