The transformation of the book industry
Readers have never had it so good. But publishers need to adapt better to the digital world
Sep 10th 2011 | from the print edition
DURING the next few weeks publishers will release a crush of books, pile them onto delivery lorries and fight to get them on the display tables at the front of bookshops in the run-up to Christmas. It is an impressive display of competitive commercial activity. It is also increasingly pointless.
More quickly than almost anyone predicted, e-books are emerging as a serious alternative to the paper kind. Amazon, comfortably the biggest e-book retailer, has lowered the price of its Kindle e-readers to the point where people do not fear to take them to the beach. In America, the most advanced market, about one-fifth of the largest publishers’ sales are of e-books. Newly released blockbusters may sell as many digital copies as paper ones. The proportion is growing quickly, not least because many bookshops are closing.
For readers, this is splendid. Just as Amazon collapsed distance by bringing a huge range of books to out-of-the-way places, it is now collapsing time, by enabling readers to download books instantly. Moreover, anybody can now publish a book, through Amazon and a number of other services. Huge choice and low prices are helping books hold their own on digital devices, even against “Angry Birds”.