Tuesday, June 26, 2007


This evening I went along to a panel discussion hosted in Norwich about the future of the book industry. There was a panel of industry bigwigs there, and between them, I think I got a pretty good glimpse of what this industry is going to look like within the next 1-5 years.

And let me just say, it's pretty much what I thought would look like. I wasn't so far off the truth when I posted this a while back.

I should mention the panelists, if not by name...by profession. There were three. One was the MD of a leading Literary agency, the other was the CEO of a major publisher, the third was a 'digital media guru'. I think it would have been interesting to have someone representing the retail end of the book business...say, from somewhere like...umm....oh yeah, Tescos.

Now before I go any further, let me just quickly explain what I mean by the term 'writer-to-reader chain'. It's the journey a book currently takes from the pen of a writer to getting into the paws of a reader.

Writer > agent > publisher > bookshop > reader.

Anyway it was interesting to hear all three of the panel discuss the issue from three different perspectives. The publisher guy and agent lady were pretty much saying the same thing, that retailers almost certainly will be squeezed out of this writer-to-reader chain. But ultimately, like a balloon that's still too heavy, someone else may have to jump. Because you see, in the near future the chain will look like this...

Writer > ???? > reader.

A writer's work will be downloaded by readers onto their groovy splash-proof, drop-proof, easy-on-the-eye eBook. There will be no need for printing presses, warehouses or bricks 'n' mortar retailers. All there will be is the literay equivalent of iTunes; some body who will gather up, organise, cross reference and host digital files.

I could imagine the top echeleon literary agencies banding together and forming some kind of premium quality literary brand, that filters the wheat from the chaff. After all, whilst having lots of choice is nice, no-one wants to have to wade through the written-word equivalent of YouTube. I mean how many badly written proto-Tolkien fantasy novels can one possibly digest?

No...there'll need to be some business whose job it is, is to filter out the less desirable stuff, and then nicely organise the good stuff into easy to navigate pigeonholes. And to some extent, isn't that what Lit agencies already do?

Arguably it might be a much-reduced-in-size publisher or two who'd fulfill that role. Perhaps it would be a very small hybrid of both types of business. But one thing's for sure....there's going to be a big commercial die-off, and surely it'll be the largest animals that will come a cropper first.

Anyway, bloody interesting panel that was.

Oh and yeah...you sceptics out there, yes you!....the one's that think eBooks will never happen. Think again. It's round the corner, it really is. It's just one sexy design curve away from taking off believe me.


Parmenion said...

I agree that ebooks will be coem more of a reality : espeically for the holiday maker...if they crack a decent e-reader.


I also think that people love books, the solid paper books. Most real reader love the feel of a book in their hands...after records were supposed to die out after CD came along...but they are still here, still popular and making a bit of a come back.

I think there will always be a market for them, it may be that they have to switch to POD though rather than mass production.

AndyC said...

Ebooks are coming, to be honest they are here, but just too inaccessible (cost/technology) to your usual plebeian reader.

Paperbooks will remain for a while, but, they will die. The people who love them will eventually die, sorry it's true, but by the time the Youtube/Ipod generation are middle aged and parents they will be buying the Ipod eqivalent for books.
A generation beyond that, books will only be the stuff of legend and will be found in antique book shops.

POD will have a niche, but a small niche, and probably with minimal turnover....

John Prigent said...

I'm not so sure, Alex. Ebooks are here now but are only loved by the technophiles - those idiots who collect the latest new gadgets even if they're no improvement on the ones they already have. Everyone else is waiting until several things happen: an agreed download standard for the reader, a breakthrough in size/weight for a decent screen size that wont induce eyestrain, prolonged battery life, and (most important) a flat ban on sellers using DRM to stop the buyers porting from machine to machine so they can back up what they own. We're seeing enough criticism of DRM on "music" to know how much resistance there is to its use, and books will be no different. Pocket-size readers can never have a large enough screen to be comfortable for prolonged reading, so we need something with a screen the size of a hardback novel page. The pocket ones may satisfy casual readers, but only until they find that glare on the screen means they can't read that new ebook on the holiday beach. I'm no dinosaur, I've been using computers since the first desktop machines appeared, but I'd hate to be deprived of paper books.

Parmenion said...

Andy, even kids these days will more often that not rather read from a book not a screen. Its going to take a major technological shift before that changes. and even then i think its going to be a hell of a long time before it reaches the point that the good old PB or HB is phased out.

AndyC said...


I was talking in terms of generations. thats in the region of 100+ years, I doubt we will see the death knell of paper based books in my lifetime, but we may begin to experience the shift when we're old and grey and using lines like "in my day" or "when i was young"

Think back, to when you were a child, and computers were only just being cheap enough to use at home. Commodore 64 etc, give nthe choice most kids then would read a book or do anything not computer related.
Nowadays, computers are so accessible the kids choose games over books, and until the book world can tap that technological barrier it will be harder to get kids to read.

if we're not careful kids will end up with books they read and when a battle or action scene arrives they will click a button and have in played out in nice CGI on the screen, and then back to the words.

Mike said...

Not sure about these e-books, I personally struggle to read things on a screen and print off anything that's more than a few sentences. I just don't absorb the words the same way when they come from a screen, it's difficult to describe but you will know what I mean.

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