The future of e-books

What does the future hold for e-books - and how should libraries and publishers prepare for change?

As for music, so for books?

What do the recent fortunes of the music industry tell us about what might happen to book publishing?  High street music stores have closed and it seems that high street book stores are following this pattern.  The way that people consume music has changed dramatically in recent years.  Anders Mildner, a journalist and media analyst from Sweden, speaking at Online Information 2011, believes the way people read and relate to books will follow a similar pattern.  The consumption of books, like music, will become less passive and more social.

New forms of e-book will enable readers to share reading experiences, just as they share music and playlists.  Reading will become a more participatory activity.  Although the value of books as physical objects will decrease, their value as social objects will increase.  Publishers and authors will look to develop works that can be enjoyed as social, shared experiences.  Librarians, and others, will need to re-engage with what reading is all about.  Publishers need to develop new business models. 

The next generation of e-books

ePub 3, the latest version of the open e-book standard, will enable this next generation of e-books.  Speaking in the same session at Online Information, James McFarlane, CEO of Easypress, described the new functionalities and features we can expect to see.   ePub 3 will enable audio/video and social media interaction, active hyperlinking, cross media interactivity and will support e-book communities.   The iPad, and other tablets are already helping to transform the ways in which people use and interact with 'the written word'. 

The next generation of e-books will also benefit from improved indexing, search, navigation and e-discovery functionality. 

If you want to know what this future might look like, consider JK Rowling's venture Pottermore.  Pottermore is a transformative product, When Pottermore, developed in partnership with Time Warner and Sony, hits the market it is expected that over 100 million Harry Potter products will be downloaded.

Transformative times in publishing

In the week following Online Information 2011, the FutureBook 2011 conference was held in London.  550 publishers and interested parties gathered to discuss the current shifts in publishing and the likely ways in which the industry will transform. 

Fundamental questions are being asked about what it is that publishers do.  For Stephen Page, a keynote speaker (Faber & Faber), publishing is now simply about 'connecting the author and the reader'.  In his blog entry summarising some of the key papers, Baldur Bjarnason noted how several publishers spoke about shifting their focus to offering 'publishing services' and taking a holistic view of product development rather than focusing on a series of different formats.   "Publishers are shifting away from vertically integrated monoliths to being horizontally integrated specialists that communicate and partner with other specialists through web services."

Bjarnason predicts that publishing will become more IT focused, with some 'product-oriented new publishers' looking more like software companies than traditional publishing houses.  Some publishers will find the transition too difficult and may go out of business.  But those that survive and thrive may unbundle some of their services and will collaborate with others of 'contrasting specialisations'. 

Meanwhile, libraries need to focus on how they can facilitate social reading activities.

For more on the changes facing the publishing industry, follow the FutureBook blog.

Image courtesy of kodomut via Flickr.