The Future of Books

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The Futurebooks conference is currently taking place and the census on digital content has only recently been published. As predicted by many professionals (and amateurs like me), the rise of the ebook continues, with now 9/10 people having accessed a digital book or journal. Whilst dedicated e-reading devices are the platform of choice, the proliferation of tablets and smartphones mean that digital content is ever more accessible. Many thought that tablet computers were just a fad, but sales figures and the variety of devices on offer show that they are here to stay.

The main bugbear is the pricing of e-books. Big publishers are generally still pricing them higher than paperbacks, with occasional offers of a cheap first book in a series to get people hooked. Self-published authors, despite their growing numbers, on the other hand are still mostly selling their offerings at budget prices. 9 out of 10 publishers have a digital platform and a large number of them believe that the digital market share will continue to increase and will outstrip the profits from print by the end of the decade. Other problems include the lack of consistency in royalty levels, territorial rights, piracy and Digital Rights Management.

Big booksellers are beginning to catch up on digital strategies and London’s iconic bookshop, Foyles, are future-proofing the design of their new store, although the census states for two-thirds of booksellers, digital sales still account for less than 3% of total business.

Most authors have embraced the digital platform but there is a general feeling that publishers need to do more on marketing and pricing strategies. Self-published authors are the most comfortable with emerging trends in digital publishing, but the balance of them have sold less than 1,000 ebooks each to date.

My own experience of self-publishing through digital platforms is that whilst it gives writers ‘a way in’ to publishing, in the long-term, there just isn’t enough profit (if any) or visibility in a now crowded market place to remain independent. However, the big winners are readers, with self-published content having improved in quality, with writers investing in editing and cover design

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