Technology 1: The End Of The Printed Word
Reports from the Frankfurt Book Fair say that e-book rights sales are rising fast, driven by America. Europe is horrified by the idea of hard-copy books vanishing, publishers are in turmoil, profits are plunging. Except that no-one can see any evidence. The rare early adopter, usually male, well-off and young, can be seen toting an electronic device, but most of us are reading books.
It would probably stay that way if it wasn’t for the involvement of four major companies: Amazon, Sony, Apple and Google, who are driving the new model. In the US, 35% of the sales of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel are electronic. Now something in the delivery chain has to go; will it be the publisher, the bookseller or the agent? Who will combine to bring books direct to the reader?
Amazon prices are low because you can only read them on the ugly old button-smothered Kindle. There’s no aesthetic appeal. But is there any more appeal in a nasty WH Smith edition of an airport bonkbuster?
There’s a war coming: publishers against retailers. The problem is that companies like Apple and Amazon are so huge, they don’t need to sell books at all. They’d sell them for 20p a copy because they make their money from selling hardware. This is just the start.