Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Uneasy State of Book Publishing

A brief food-for-thought entry: As I mentioned last week, e-books were a definitive highlight for book publishers over the past twelve months. E-book sales in the U.S. have shot upward; the Amazon Kindle has become a hit consumer item, even with limited availability; interest in the Sony Reader remains high; and one publisher's recent comments reveal the potential for e-books on the iPhone. Dana Goodyear's essay on Japanese "cell-phone novels" also indicates how digital technology can influence what--and who--is professionally published.

The unfortunate flip side is that the traditional, bread-and-butter wing of of book publishing--hardcover and paperback books--is in serious trouble. (Goodyear notes that Japanese publishers have "embraced cell-phone novels" in part because the industry has "shrunk by more than twenty percent in the last eleven years.") Jason Boog summarizes just how bleak the near future will be for the industry. In mentioning Boog's essay, Anika at WriteBlack is blunt in her assessment: "Somebody’s got to reinvent publishing, and it has to happen faster than it’s happening now."

So what's the future path? Anika elaborates in a comment to the above post:

"I think part of the problem for the book publishing industry is the same problem as in newspapers: It’s obvious that the way of the future is digital, but even as dead-tree profits are falling, dead trees still make way more money than digital editions. If companies drop paper versions right now, they’ll have to fire 90 percent of their staffs and get rid of 90 percent of their editors, because the new business model right now just won’t sustain the overhead that actually keeps the industry running."

In other words, there are no easy answers.

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