Sunday, September 25, 2011

Manning the barricades of the digital revolution

The thing about the book industry is, it was always a little behind the times. It was years after writers started using word processing software before publishers would accept electronic manuscripts, because their systems were not adaptable for anything except keyed input. As this post by industry expert Mike Shatzkin makes clear, the ebook revolution gained traction four years ago, with the introduction of the Kindle, the first device that made it easy to buy an ebook because it a) offered wireless delivery and b) was linked to Amazon's sizable online ebookstore.  

Previously, ebooks suffered from the chicken-and-the-egg syndrome: publishers would not invest in digital transformation of books because there was not a sizable base of people with ereaders to buy them; at the same time, there was not a huge market for ereaders because there weren't that many ebooks available to read on them. Amazon provided for both sides of that equation and ebooks started to explode as a market.  Four years ago they were less than 1% of book sales. Now, Amazon sells more Kindle books than hardback or paperback books. Some publishers have already passed the 20% mark in revenue coming from digital books. 

The speed that this has happened has been phenomenal, especially for an industry that was used to change coming at a glacial pace. The nature of ebooks as cheap, easy, and quick to produce (from a technical standpoint) means that almost anyone can be a publisher.  The lines are blurring as self-published authors hire their own editors, agents publish books, and retailers set up publishing imprints. It's enough to make anyone's head spin. 

When it comes to book publishing, the times they are a-changing, and change means opportunity for good as well as bad. Unless you happen to own a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, it's an exciting time.  If you do own a bricks-and-mortar store, I suggest you have a website, hook up with Google ebooks, and concentrate on providing a book-lovers experience that online retailers can't provide, like signings, book club meetings, and even a coffee shop. 


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