Kassia Krozser recently pointed to a great post on the Urban Elitist blog where David Nygren speculates on the future of book publishing. It's a long post but well worth reading in its entirety. Here are the thoughts that popped into my mind as I studied it:
Nygren says, "print is to read, and electronic is to search and browse and discover." That was true in the pre-Kindle/Sony Reader era. Plenty of customers are now reading, searching and browsing on dedicated devices and new generations of these readers will only result in even more e-reading. He's right to point out that the shift from analog to digital won't happen as fast here as it did in the music world, mostly because print still remains an excellent solution.
I'm even more bullish on print-on-demand (POD) than Nygren is. As prices come down I think you'll start to see traditional publishers shifting to POD even earlier in the product's lifecycle, perhaps as early as the very first copies. Imagine the inventory management and write-off headaches that could go away in this model!
Will the "mega publishing conglomerates go by-bye," as Nygren suggests? They will if they don't adapt, that's for sure. As author platform continues to grow in importance I find it interesting that the differences between traditional publishers and self-publishers diminish. Ultimately, traditional publishers need to figure out what services and capabilities they'll offer that self-publishers won't or can't. This is one of the most fascinating things to keep a close eye on, IMHO.
When you read this part of Nygren's post, what comes to mind?: "Under the new model, publishers will risk relatively little financially but will share a greater portion of the profits with the author." I don't know about you but my first thought was, "that's not a new model...it already exists and it's called 'self-publishing'."
Nygren spends some time talking about piracy and whether readers will be willing to pay if the same content is available (illegally) from other sources. I'm not sure this is the keyissue. Unlike the music biz, I don't believe the book publishing world suffers from rampant piracy. Sure, there are plenty of sites out there distributing content illegally and some of them get a decent amount of traffic. The real problem is in all the great free content that's 100% legal and at the top of most Google searches, especially in the how-to and reference spaces. That's one of the reasons why I hate DRM. The solution is NOT to lock your customer's content but rather to provide paid content options that are better than the free ones. (And btw, that's one of the many things I like about my employer's (O'Reilly) approach to DRM -- we sell DRM-free bundles on our website.)