ABSTRACT

As digital books are bought and read, and substituted for print sales and ownership of those books, what challenges does this bring about for the way in which we consume books? Where will the value be created and held in this new world? What forms of capital are important in a digital environment? As bookstores disappear from the high street, how will we discover new books and authors? How will books be packaged and sold in an online environment? Do we actually need to own books any longer? There is no doubt about the disruption felt in the industry. Alongside the arrival

of ebooks in the market, the publishing industry has had to contend with the growth of free, often user-generated, content available online. The internet is the default option for obtaining information – the share of search held by Google has been around 90 per cent – and users are using a range of websites to find relevant content, from Facebook and Wikipedia to TripAdvisor and IMDb. Offline brands have not necessarily transferred successfully online, and for many publishers it has been their author brands which have been most prominent rather than their imprints. The publishing industry has conducted experiments in digital publishing since

the early 1990s with, in turn, CD-Roms and online publishing. The latter took hold in areas such as journals and professional publishing. What changed the consumer publishing industry was the interest taken by the large technology players in how books are bought and read. Sony, who revolutionized the music market with the original Walkman, came out with a reader in 2006 with the proud tagline: ‘Finally, the digital book has come of age’. The ereader did not break open the market, partly because it lacked the associated range of content to meet the expectations of consumers, but the device did much to make people comfortable with the idea of reading books on a screen. Microsoft began a book digitization programme in 2005, in what looked like a copy of the initiative by Google. Their

avowed aim was to improve online search by converting offline content – initially books in the public domain. They abandoned the project in 2008, claiming that it was more important to develop a sustainable business model for search. A few eyebrows were raised in 2012 when they announced a collaboration with the US chain Barnes & Noble to create a strategic partnership in the area of digital reading. Apple is also a surprise player in the market for books, given that Steve Jobs said

in 2008 of the Kindle: ‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty per cent of the people in the US read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.’1 But advertising for the iPad continues to feature reading books as one of the tablet’s benefits, and before his death Jobs was making plans to break open the textbook market. A further irony was that the biography of Jobs by Walter Isaacson proved to be an international bestseller. Google entered the market with its digitization programme, launched in 2004,

converting out of copyright works but also more controversially works where the copyright holder could not be traced. It also worked with publishers to display part of or the whole text, to enable sales of in-print books. It is now selling books alongside other media from its Google Play store, and is competing in the device market alongside both Apple and Amazon. Google’s work with books has undoubtedly raised the quality of their search

capability, by adding these texts into their database. Sergey Brin, one of the two founders of Google, said that the comprehensiveness of a search is not just about the number of words or bytes: ‘It’s about having the really high-quality information. You have thousands of years of human knowledge, and probably the highestquality knowledge is captured in books.’2 The books database is also contributing to their research in the area of artificial intelligence, and the development of their Google Translate service. Although there are other players in the ebook market, such as Kobo, the big

beast is Amazon, with a high market share first in print and now especially in ebooks. The giant retailer began its operations with books back in 1995, as Jeff Bezos identified the benefits that internet retailing would bring to customers in this market by offering not just products but also a service: a large choice of titles, far more than could possibly be available in even the biggest superstore; 24/7 availability and convenience, in particular for those without a local bookstore; and personalization around the customer’s interests. The ebook market did not open up for Amazon until they got the device right and with the Kindle they produced a high-quality reading experience with the advantages of portability, low prices, and virtually instant access to a host of content (over 1.3 million titles in 2012). Jeff Bezos had declared the book to be the ‘last bastion of analog’, and again he got the service element right with the Kindle – a seamless operation backed with enough content and competitive pricing of individual titles.3