Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is The Book Industry Going To Get "Napstered"?

Before I retired from the publishing industry, I was a big advocate of eBooks-----in fact, if I were not sick, I would be managing my own eBook publishing company now. While I don't think eBooks will ever largely supplant print books----especially for fiction----I think they have a ton of potential for professional, scientific, and technical works, especially in subject areas where frequent revision is necessary. eBooks would also make sense for topics that are inherently "time limited," such as books on various software releases. It's doubtful anyone will need or want a Windows Vista book a decade from now, so why not distribute them in electronic form? Publishers and readers could both save money and trees with eBooks.

But one of my frustrations during my days as a publishing consultant was the emotional, irrational opposition to eBooks on the part of many publishing executives and managers. One fear is "piracy," the notion that people will download eBooks for free from outlaw web sites instead of buying authorized versions. Another, more deadly notion is that eBooks must be priced close to the list price of print editions lest eBooks destroy the market for print editions. Both of these are ridiculous ideas, but a surprising number of senior publishing executives treat them as if they came down fromn Mount Sinai on marble tablets.

I feel these attitudes will eventually cripple some book publishers, and Slate's Jack Shafer agrees. If you're in the publishing industry, you need to read his article.