13 Nov 2009
Digital publishing is gathering steam. It's not just the flood of new e-book readers - there are significant changes happening in the publishing business, too.
Harlequin has become the first mainstream publisher to launch a digital-only imprint. Carina Press will launch next year, publishing a wide range of women's fiction in e-book form, both from its own and third-party sites.
Traditional publishing is under pressure in many ways. The always-marginal economics of bookshops have meant that bricks-and-mortar outlets have suffered in the recession. In the UK, Borders has shut flagship stores and is finally killing off its Books Etc brand. In the US, the original Borders (the UK and US operations are no longer connected) is expected to shut down 200 Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet stores in January.
And it's not just retailers who are suffering: there's bad news for publishers, too. The price of paper has rocketed again, and printers are warning that they can no longer absorb the increases. Prices rose 7-12% over the past year and there's another 8% hike expected early next year. E-books are starting to look more and more competitive.
Perhaps that will push the more reluctant old-world publishers into the new digital age.
Any UK publishers that are reluctant to fully embrace e-books because "there's no demand" or "it's not a mature market yet" should think again. Their attitude may be based on a dangerous form of parochialism. Presentations made at the London Book Fair by Steve Bohme of BML and Kelly Gallagher Pub Track/Bowker (companies that specialise in market data) suggested that the UK is about three years behind the US in the uptake of e-books.
Any UK publisher that remains complacently dismissive about digital publisher could find itself left behind. With print books, it's difficult for overseas operations to compete. To publish and sell books you need in-country distribution networks. But there are no borders in e-book publishing - you can sell anywhere from anywhere. Laggardly UK publishers will find themselves in direct competition from overseas operations, especially as the most significant marketing activities migrate to the web.
It's really starting to look like 2010 may be the year of the e-book.