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

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 120.

    I prefer books and have no intention of ever using my Kindle which I won about 18 months ago. However, if there was some mechanism whereby you could get a well-discounted Kindle version when buying the physical book (or vice versa), I'd probably go for both versions. Surely this would be better for retailers & authors as they'd sell 2 copies instead of one, and it'd be better for consumers too?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 119.

    I think part of the reason could be that books might appeal to an older market than popular music and that market might have rather more disposable income.

    I also think it's a lot more difficult to rationalise stealing from a publisher than a music company. Even though in both cases you're ultimately stealing from the creator.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 118.

    There are still issues with ebooks that go against what the consumer wants. Whether that be pricing or content controls that prevent you moving the source material from one device to another the publishing industry can and should do more to improve the digital experience of readers.

    The Music industry. If I listen to them I'm an enemy not a consumer so I feel no empathy for distributors.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 117.

    I love my Kindle and also the fact that I will be able to return to buying magazines too. However I have one major complaint and that is why are the texts of English books - I too have the complete T Pratchett, Americanised; Homicide instead of Murder and center instead of centre etc. etc. This is not a good thing as english english is already under threat from politicians.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 116.

    113 Pdibs - I also have the complete Terry Pratchett in hardback - but have most of them on Kindle and Audio too. The standard Kindle screen relies on reflected light so is as easy on the eyes as paper. I urge you to try an ebook reader. I carry mine everywhere, so always have my library with me.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 115.

    20. Peter_Sym

    "Printed books are VAT free."

    Only in UK and 2 other EU countries. Everywhere else charges between 3-8% VAT on books. In France, it just rose from 5.5-7% a couple of months ago. So expect it here soon too, as our greedy government look at ever more ways of squeezing money out of us.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 114.

    Unfortunately you have companies like Apple trying to profiteer from digital sales. They forced Amazon to remove the e'book function from their app for the iPhone unless they gave Apple a 25% cut of sales, this was the total sale not Amazons profit, even Amazon doesn't make this much. Apple trying to corner the market and force prices up even more.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 113.

    I'm quite fond of my complete Terry Pratchett collection in paper/hardbacks and regularly read them.

    I'd take a Kindle or the like on holiday where space is an issue, but for simply sitting down for a good read, I find a book is far better than a standard monitor screen, and much less likely to lead to a headache.

    There's also the question of having something physical for your money.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 112.

    110. squodge
    +++
    Even the best books are only read 2 or 3 times whereas a good CD will be enjoyed 100's of times, Also music is quite often enjoyed by groups of people whereas there are very few book readings.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 111.

    Different formats will live side by side, people will use them according to their values and circumstances.I feel it is not possible to compare music with the written word in the sense that they are very different experiences.Also, a book on molecular biology or a Mass by Palestrina are specialised. Intellectual property and costs need a fresh approach.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 110.

    Almost everyone enjoys music, but most begrudge paying something like £10 for something that lasts up to 80 minutes.

    Books on the other hand are enjoyed regularly by fewer people. However, even a small novel can last more than 80 minutes, and costs far less than £10. A hefty book can last a few days - and cost less than £10.

    The music industry has held the consumer at ransom for too long.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 109.

    To me the reason is blindingly simple - you don't need a battery to read a book!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 108.

    I love books. The cover the feel the touch, but have to hunt for the most perfect one on the shelf (no scratches or dents). But, lots of my friends have Kindles and I'm fighting the urge to get one. Not given in yet...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 107.

    The main difference between publishing and the music/film business is that one has adapted to change, while the other is desperately trying to cling on to a 1980s business model (ie: severely milking it)

    Many authors give one, or more, of their books away for free (usually older stuff). If you like them you might buy some of their other books

    All they need to do now is get the price right

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 106.

    I couldn't trust myself with a Kindle in the bath.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 105.

    The print and distribution costs of a book is often a small proportion of the cost model. A lot of cost is in the aquisition, editing, structuring and storing of the content, especially in text / reference books. In addion ebooks are subject to VAT and print is not. The publishers aren't making more profit from ebooks. The experience of music is largely format agnostic, not so with print.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 104.

    Wake up and smell the coffee - the same profile was seen when mp3 players first came in - a tipping point comes however, taking bets now on how obsolete this article will be in about 3 years...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 103.

    Hopefully publishers will start modernising a bit soon and do what Blu-ray publishers are doing - i.e. including a free digital copy of the book with physical editions.

    Although I only read books on digital devices, I never pay for ebooks. Instead I download them for free online, however, I only do so after ordering a physical copy of the book online - usually the more expensive hardcover copy.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 102.

    Kindle not so good for swatting a fly with though...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 101.

    For me an e-book is like watching a film at home. It might be the same content but you can't beat the cinema for the experience. Reading a book, holding it in your hands and turning the pages is all part of the magic for me. Feeling the weight and checking how far through you’ve got. Flipping ahead to see how many pages you’ve left until the end of chapter. Can't be beat

 

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