The music industry has recently seen a vast change in the type of products consumers demand, from physical items such as CDs, to digital downloads, and it looks as if this digitisation may hit the publishing sector in the near future. Yahoo
have now announced plans to develop a freely available online archive for books, audio, video and music while Google Print
has already begun scanning books, although the company has become embroiled in legal wrangles over copyright issues. The current idea is to make their archives searchable and provide a short excerpt of a book in order for the user to assess its suitability for their purpose, hopefully leading to the sale of a copy.
It seems that Yahoo has overtaken Google in the race to digitise by deciding to publish copyrighted material only with permission of the holder and hopes that the 18,000 proposed works will be online by the end of next year. In contrast, Google has decided to publish all works from selected universities unless objections are received, causing The Authors Guild to take legal action which subsequently halted scanning of copyrighted material for a short while. At this point in time, texts that are protected by copyright will not be scanned in full but in the future, I think these companies will offer whole books online for a small cost, with a proportion going to the publisher and author.
Currently there are only plans for including American literature and content from Britain's National Archive and the European Archive to be decided by them in due course. However, with many other websites continuing this trend, the content made available on the Internet to view, download or print will become extensive and there will be no market for hard copies, making the high street retailers redundant (Keh, 1998). Nonetheless, questions relating to digital rights management would have to be answered before this is implemented, for example, if one person can download a book, is it acceptable to print ten copies and distribute them to friends?
Following on from these plans, Google is proposing an online rental service
whereby people would be able to read books on the Internet. A title would be available for up to one week at 10% of the retail price and customers would not be able to save or print them, however, Google has not confirmed this project so the information is currently only speculation. This proposed rental scheme is likely to prove successful because many people do not want to read a book more than once (unless for reference) therefore an online library presents a good solution.
As an aside, I would like to mention the publishing of sheet music as I find what has happened quite interesting. There are now many websites such as Musicnotes.com
which offer sheet music to download and print for a relatively small price, but it is unfair to sell these without providing a preview as customers often cannot determine the difficulty of a piece of music without seeing it first. Currently, the websites offer the first page - a reasonable method for classical music but for pop music, which is simpler and mostly based on repetitive chord patters, I find the first page gives enough information to work out the whole piece. Obviously, for less experienced musicians this will be more difficult however I do think that this will prove to be an impending problem for online sheet music distribution.
Back to text based publishing: in the future I think that most publishers will eventually have to give in and start using the Internet as a distributing tool for new titles. This will likely mean a significant decrease in prices for consumers as there will be fewer production costs for companies, therefore the publishers will have to decide how they are going to profit from this. One way would be to allow advertising on their websites but this would only be possible if they had enough customers. It is possible that publishers will not have a future as authors may decide to publish on the Internet themselves – many people already do in the form of weblogs, but again, as with musicians, the question is how do they publicise their work to create demand for the product? This may be the only opportunity for publishers to survive and they would have to adapt their business strategies in order to offer a different type of service.
As for newspapers, RSS
and online publishing are making sales plummet and I think that these companies will eventually place all of their focus on Internet based services. The issue here is not just that people are not buying papers, but that the companies are not getting revenue from selling advertising space. This is because job vacancies are now dealt with through Internet search engines and company websites, and demand for general classifieds have seen a decline due to websites such as Craigslist
Finally, I think there will always be a market for genuinely rare and collectible used books, and the prices will be driven up by the global transparency that the Internet offers. Buying hard copies of specialised material at high cost (e.g. academic textbooks) may be a thing of the past - at least I hope so!Bibliography
Keh, H. T., (1998), “Evolution of the book publishing industry Structural changes and strategic implications”, Journal of Management History, Bradford: Vol.4, Iss. 2, pg. 104
Long, S. A., (2003), “The case for e-books: an introduction”, New Library World, Vol. 104, Iss. ½, pp.29-32.
Milliot, J., (2005), “Searching for Digital Dollars”, Publishers Weekly, New York: Oct 31, Vol. 252, Iss. 43, pg. 12.