Digital Book Conference

This week the book industry will converge at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo being held in New York on January 23-25. The publishing industry is uniquely susceptible to digitization — and poised to win or loose from it.

“For Apple, it’s another service to drive hardware sales. For Amazon, it’s to drive commerce – books or memberships,” said Tony van Veen, CEO of AVL Digital Group, parent company of BookBaby, a Portland, Oreg.-based independent e-book formatting and distribution firm.

What Apple is attempting to do with free software and limited distribution is bound to fail, said Bill McCoy, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a global trade and standards organization for the promotion of electronic publishing.

The IDPF developed the EPUB 3 e-book file format that Apple’s free iBooks Author seems to adhere to when it creates an e-book file.

“To limit the distribution of an EPUB file to only Apple’s channel would be the equivalent of Google saying that you can only use the HTML created with Google Docs on the Google Chrome browser,” said McCoy.

EPUB 3 is built on HTML 5, which means that publishers can build JavaScript into their books. If allowed, remote data calls through JavaScript embedded in an EPUB 3 e-book will open up a whole new world of customer information and customer interaction for book publishers.

But as more publishing revenue transitions to digital, publishers are less optimistic about the state of the book publishing industry, according to a Digital Book World survey conducted by Forrester Research.

The survey, conducted among publishing executives at major publishing companies across the U.S., represent 74% of all U.S. publishing revenues.

According to the survey, 82% of book publishing executives are “optimistic” about the digital transition, down from 89% a year ago. But only 28% of these executives thought their own company would be stronger in the future because of digital compared to 51% who agreed with this sentiment the prior year.

Why aren’t publishers more positive?. Forrester’s James McQuivey sees three reasons:

  1. Physical book sales will decline significantly. A solid 54% of their respondents believe print sales will go down, though just 5% are willing to say they will “decrease significantly.” You can’t lose Borders in 2011 and not expect overall sales in 2012 to hold steady.
  2. Amazon will go for everything. Executives think Amazon and other online-only booksellers will sell 41% of eBooks in 2012. But this does not even begin to describe Amazon’s ambitions — the company wants to control the future of books, movies, music, apps, shopping, and all of their intertwinings can be orchestrated through Amazon’s Kindle platform. It won’t care if it permanently resets price expectations.
  3. Content will slip farther out of publishers’ control. Apple’s new book-authoring tools and NBCUniversal’s announcement today that it will become a publisher are just the latest in a long train of disruptive outsiders. From Kindle’s self-publishing platform that made Amanda Hocking the talk of the publishing world to Smashwords‘ tripling author count and quadrupling title count.

Interestingly, apps no longer inspire enthusiasm from publishers — just 19% think apps could be more transformative than eBooks, down from 46% the year before.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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