Alan Kohler, of Business Spectator (one amongst many of his stable of gigs), has written an article on the impact of the digital revolution on the “book”. As you can tell by the title he chose, he believes “Overall, as Mark Twain might say, reports of the death of the book are greatly exaggerated.” As Mr Kohler would say, “Here’s why…”
Kohler is of course playing quite flexibly with the term “book”, and includes “e-books” under this category, and not just the physical version that is the main category that has been predicted to decline towards near-extinction. This is presumably for rhetorical purposes. E-books he notes are now taking about 10 percent of total book sales and rising fast.
In terms of his prediction that the Internet would redefine what a book is, he says this is less apparent (yet), except that “short novels and summaries at a price point around $3 each are doing well.”
With somewhat less rhetorical flourish, Kohler notes that book publishers are still proving their value in the sector, claiming “publishers are still needed to edit and package the books for sale, including digitally”. However, he admits their role as “risk managers” has been obviated: the ‘traditional’ model was that they paid the authors an advance on royalties and then invested the capital to have the book created and then bought back books that didn’t sell from the retailer, all of which is a bet on how much the book will sell. This role as risk manager is diminishing as e-books cost very little to reproduce and can be reproduced quickly in response to demand. Publishers he says also “gets to keep more of the money: no printers and typesetters to pay”, as do the authors who are now essentially sharing the risk with publishers.