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

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 100.

    "Death of publishing may have been greatly exaggerated."

    Good, hardcopy backup is always a sound move.

    Now tell the "music" industry.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 99.

    I can see the appeal of e-books, but I like physical books as well and don't want to pay for the same thing twice. The first publisher/shop to bundle a physical book with an electronic version will definitely win my allegiance.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 98.

    96. Rebecca Riot
    +++
    I've just downloaded the Chimes for nothing but don't tell anyone, it wasn't the book.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 97.

    I have a Kindle (other e-readers area available) and I love it. It's got me reading again, and it has exposed me to new authors who I would never have heard of because Amazon has promoted a book for £1 or even free, enticing me to read more of their work. Surely that's a win-win?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 96.

    94 Name number 6

    Just downloaded Dickens 'The Chimes' for nothing. Out of copyright.

    Very good story. The one he wanted to write instead of Christmas Carol.

    No sentimentality hence did not sell well. Turned out of your lodgings by greedy landlord, with tiny child in arms during freezing winter. A short walk to the river!

    A truer picture of life in Victorian London. A bit like today?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 95.

    Publishers are too greedy with ebook pricing. I understand the VAT point, but why does a paperback that has been out for a few years cost half the price of the ebook? I have had a Kindle for two years and use it all the time, but I have never paid for an ebook - there is too much free (legal) material out there. The worst thing are "reprinted" out-of-copyright works - free, or £10? Hmm...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 94.

    ''Maybe pirated copies of digital books were never going to be as popular as their musical equivalents''
    +++
    Surely Treasure Island is just as good in digital form as hard copy?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 93.

    It is likely that someone would pinch your kindle gadget because it's a gadget, but not a physical book. Read a book? No way! You must be joking. Whatever would thief do with it? No value at all to some folk.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 92.

    I have so many books that I have an agreement with my husband - I buy books in ebook form (kindle these days) unless they are part of an already started series. I read tons and find it easier to take Kindle on holiday etc. Price difference is mainly to do with VAT - which I curse but live with...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 91.

    ebooks are great:- portable, easy to store and print can be enlarged for people with sight problems. However, there's something wonderful about a shelf of Penguin Classics complete with their wonderful artwork and changing cover designs over the decades.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 90.

    The disorderly drug crazed world of musical piracy downloads is tower blocks away from the world of e book publishing. Totally diffferent social fabric. Books are posh music biz is not

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 89.

    I love e-books but I still buy physical books. If anything I've bought more physical books since getting a kindle. Also until e-readers are much improved, physical books will still need to be used for studying. Trying to skip to a certain part of an e-book on an e-reader is a nightmare.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 88.

    At some point, we'll enter the vinyl/cd/mp3 situation with books. Probably, it's best to have all of the available formats for books too. E-books are a marvel - but can't replace the physical object...for some of us! The self publishing ebook authors have that punk 'do-it'yourself' feel about them - and that spawned a lot of fantastic Indie labels and music that would never have been released. Top

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 87.

    27.Yeokel
    6 Hours ago
    3.penguin337
    "Books are a tactile permanent record of Human knowledge or imagination
    e-books are highly volatile..."

    Yep, it's a good job books are not volatile and are not damaged by water & other chemicals, fire, wear and tear, carelessness, mice, or any other peril.
    Oh, hang on......
    ---
    Yep! A bit like e-books then. So what's your point exactly?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    Books have embraced the technology. It's affordable, easy, and speaclised. Not only that physical books (much more than physical CDS) play a much more important role in the enjoyment factor for many. With a CD to enjoy it, you don't actually have contact with the disc or case. For me, this is why books will succeed longer.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 85.

    83Aidy
    The only reason we had 'industries' for these areas was to exploit new technologies. Printing and the music equivalent recording/playback. Then it required big plants to make affordable copies. Now tech has moved on, we no longer need scale, and can make our own copies. There is no reason whatever mere minstrels, players and story tellers should get rich. It is a free pint hobby activity.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 84.

    If something is in digital format it will get copied and handed to someone for free.

    Live with it.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 83.

    @JamesStGeorge
    > Who needs publishers?

    You obviously don't understand either the publishing industry or the music industry so maybe you should refrain from discussing them? Typical pirate, wants to get paid doing their job but wants everyone else to work for free. If you're going to tell me how else artists can get paid you didn't read my 1st sentence. Or lack the intellect to understand it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 82.

    @78.Jack Napier

    Yes. Because in 2011 the music industry made $16.2bn a rise on the previous year which is growth in any understanding of the word but the industry is still crying a 3% loss because they're comparing hardcopy and digital copy sales to the solely hardcopy environment of 2004.

    Of the 60 youngest people in the Times 2012 rich list, 24 are in the music industry, all in the top 50.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 81.

    I just love reading. Doesn't matter if it's my kindle or a good old fashioned book. I think services like the free books on Amazon's kindle store are doing wonders for the sales, though. I've read a free book, and then gone on to buy the next book(s) in the series as I've been introduced to something and hooked. Take note, music industry.....

 

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