Thursday, April 30, 2009

E-books: is the writing on the wall for books?

E-books will soon be a billion-dollar business: has this new industry finally reached a tipping point.

At the recent London Book Fair in Earls Court, the publishing industry gathered to discuss the future of the business.

In among the vast stands carrying the latest paperbacks, was a “digital zone”, where academics and executives explored a variety of ways in which the books industry could embrace the electronic age.

E-books – electronic novels that can be read on a wide variety of devices, from mobile phones to iPods to dedicated gadgets, such as Amazon’s Kindle – are widely viewed as the next big thing in publishing, and it seems consumers are more willing than ever to contemplate reading their favourite books on a screen, rather than a dog-eared paperback.

The Association of American Publishers, for instance, has singled out e-book sales as the fastest-growing segment in the industry, with sales of “traditional” books declining across all major publishing markets by comparison. Naturally, no seismic technological shift would be complete without a format war – VHS and Betamax battled it out for dominance back in the days of video cassettes, while the high-definition DVD scrimmage was eventually won by Blu-ray, which saw off the challenge of HD-DVD. It looks as though the e-book will experience similar growing pains.

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