Publishing's digital switchover

 
e-book reader

Take two industries trying to adapt to the digital era, music and publishing. One is packed with bright young ruthlessly ambitious people who have to be aware of the latest trends - the other is, well, publishing. So which is coping better? Publishing, believe it or not.

The latest figures from the Publishers Association make surprisingly positive reading for anyone in the book trade. For some years, readers of specialist, technical and academic titles have been going digital - now the general reader is embracing e-books.

Spending on digital fiction books rose from £23m in the first six months of 2011 to £64m in the same period this year. In total, digital sales now account for more than £1 in every £8 we spend on books.

But what will cause the publishing industry to raise a glass of dry sherry is that the figure for physical book sales is down just 0.4% - and overall physical and digital sales are up 6%. It seems that the move to digital is not eroding the overall value of publishing as it has in the music industry where, as the saying goes, analogue dollars are being replaced by digital cents.

"It looks like unalloyed good news", Richard Mollet, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, told me. It seems that all those people reading Kindles or other e-readers on the way to work are actually consuming more books than they did before.

Of course, the big contrast with the music industry is the extent of online piracy, which has yet to make much of an impact on publishing. "We do send thousands of copyright infringement notices to Google every month," Mr Mollet told me, "but it's not on the scale of the music industry."

The book trade did have the benefit of observing what happened to music long before its own digital transformation got underway. What's more, legal digital platforms like the Sony Reader and the Kindle were around before consumers had the chance to choose an alternative unlicensed "brand": "We didn't have a Limewire or a Napster to contend with," Richard Mollet says.

Maybe pirated copies of digital books were never going to be as popular as their musical equivalents - or maybe times will get harder as the pirates work out how lucrative this market can be. And of course if you're a high street bookseller, squeezed for years by online giants like Amazon and now watching readers use your shops as showrooms before going home to download to their e-readers, it is hard to be cheerful.

But for now, the fusty old publishers are looking rather more comfortable in the 21st Century than the hip young gunslingers of the music industry.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Game on - e-sports takes off in the UK

Video game competitions, watched by audiences in stadiums and on TV, are taking off in Britain.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    @77

    That makes no sense. You can get the Amazon Kindle App on anything from a phone (of any OS), any computer or any tablet as well as their own Kindle e-reader. And you're free to back up your files or continue using your multiple platform readers offline.

    How much more open do you want? How is being able to read your ebook on virtually any device online or offline restrictive?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 79.

    Who needs publishers? Just a matter of time like the music/film industry before their model based on private monopolies has to come crashing down. Txt files should take over, freely copyable. The sheer greed shown by publishing is a mirror of the music lot and its doom. If you have to resort to legal force to maintain a business model, your game is over. Digital forms are an advert. Free.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 78.

    76.xyriach

    It's got nothing to do with piracy.

    ----

    Are you seriously suggesting that millions of people deciding not to pay for what they consume has no negative effect on the industry?

    As to e-books - I love them. I read around 2-3 books a week so the space saving alone as opposed to hardcopy is well worth making the swith.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 77.

    Regarding comparisons with the music/film industries it's hard to see how the publishing industry is any more virtuous: ebooks come in a variety of different, sometimes proprietory, formats and are encumbered with DRM so you are effectively locked in forever to your supplier unless you are willing to crack the DRM.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 76.

    @75.Aidy

    The music industry made globally over $15.9 billion in 2010, just $1.75bn less than the previous year. Largely this is attributable to the move to digital media where costs are lower and therefore profit margins shrink.

    The industry is dying because of mass produced factory pop and the suffocation of real talent beneath karaoke all stars.

    It's got nothing to do with piracy.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 75.

    @UnCivil_in_NY #66 + the tedious legions saying the same

    The music industry is dying because of rampant criminal piracy, no point trying to paint things otherwise. You might think this is good because you only care about the price of things and want everything for free, but many people (true fans) care about qualty and want it. You may now continue to tell me pirates buy more music than others.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 74.

    On of the principal advantages of the Kindle Self Publishing model is that it is widely known that Authors are the main beneficiaries of any payment made.

    As a result the books are cheaper (more often than not - and yes, often for a reason) principally because individuals can grasp what corporations do not.

    Lots of very cheap copies of something = profit. A few expensive copies = pirates.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 73.

    I was a great reader until i lost the use of my dominant arm 25 years ago.
    My reading stopped then, due to the physical problems. (try it with a fat paper book).

    Got a Kindle 2 years back and have read more now than ever in these two years.

    Thanks ebooks :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 72.

    I like to have some books on my Kindle app - kind of an emergency supply! Plus I keep some business books there as they are easy to carry around. But for most other stuff I still like paper. I can write on it, flick through it more easily and when it comes to novels I can share them. On holiday I take paperbacks (no worries with the pool) and I can leave them behind for other guests when I'm done!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 71.

    One advantage of ebooks I've found is that you can dump the text into an email and send it to yourself to read at work. It means I can read whatever I like, instead of feeling like a weirdo for reading something other than The Hunger Games.

    Do you get ebooks with annotations in the text that you can click on or whatever? If not, someone's missing a trick.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 70.

    I have a kindle, and i buy a book based on which is cheaper, at the moment its usually the physical copy. In many ways the kindle is much better, i can pack hundreds of books on a small device and take them with me on holiday, try packing some some hefty books in your luggage, takes up loads of room and weights it all down, ebooks are the future (especially when they eventually become cheaper).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 69.

    Give me a book any day, you can not get the smell and the feel of a book through a reader.

    There is also the issue over ownership of the collection and not being able to share a good book with friends.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 68.

    66. The music industry has fallen largely because it convinced itself that people wanted to pay for CDs, not music. So it demonised a medium that it should have been exploiting.

    I don't think book publishers have that problem. They know that people like books, and they haven't made high-profile attempts to stifle ebooks or punish their readers.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 67.

    I was reading my Kindle in my local pub and an old bloke pointed at me and said it's no wonder the libraries are closing. Such ignorance: I use the library more than anyone I know and generally have a couple of books on the go in addition to e-books. It's not often you can have it both ways.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 66.

    The simple fact is, trying to hold onto a dying business model by screeching and litigation works far less well than adapting to the changing market... hense the stunning failure of the music industry.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 65.

    I will still read a paper book before an ebook. Audio books are great while decorating and cooking though.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 64.

    It's not really hard to work out why publishing is making so much more of technology than the music industry did.... They are getting in right at the beginning, embracing it and making it work for them - not doing what the music industry did and burying their heads in the sand hoping that progress would just go away. The music industry has no-one but itself to blame.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 63.

    I'd like to see printed copies of books come with the e-version too (inc. in the price, of course, which shouldn't be increased), so that people don't have to choose printed or virtual. This would especially be invaluable for technical and reference books. I'd love to be able to bring my library of reference materials to work on a small tablet. In terms of reading for pleasure though - forget it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 62.

    @57Peter_Sym

    Actually, unless you're a librarian, you can't. The copy you hold is not the original work, its a licensed reproduction for distribution. You're not legally allowed to redistribute it without a license to do so.

    http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p01_uk_copyright_law

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 61.

    I work on a computer all day, and worse half the night. Settling in with a proper book is a huge relief that I hope will continue.
    I can also take books on holiday, planes and elsewhere without the battery dieing.

 

Page 3 of 6

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.