By Nicky Pellegrino
In the brave new world that’s fast coming, book shops and libraries may seem charmingly vintage. Instead of browsing the shelves in a leisurely fashion we’ll buy books from the Internet, download them in minutes, and then read them digitally, probably on our mobile phones.
It may still be early days for the e-book, with them accounting only for a fraction of sales even in established markets like the US. “But once it gets traction with early adopters things will take off quickly,” promises Taylor. “It’s already starting to get that growth now.”
Internet bookstore Amazon recently revealed that when a book is released simultaneously in both electronic and paper format in the US, on average 35 percent of sales are electronic.
Here in New Zealand we can’t buy Amazon’s digital reader, the Kindle, or versions from other makers like Sony. That’s something the Digital Publishing Forum is working to change.
“We’ve talked to Sony but they’re rolling out in a very staged way,” says Taylor. “Still we want to do the groundwork now so when they’re ready it’s easy for them.”
“It’s likely that being able to read books digitally will increase the reading people do,” he argues. “The availability will be better, it will be easier for people to buy and read. So this is a real opportunity for publishers to create and sell more long form reading.”
There are concerns, of course. Both the music and movie industries have seen profits hit by illegal downloading and copying. For the publishing world libraries pose a particularly tricky problem and there is talk of having to use methods of encryption to prevent books being copied. But Taylor, who has a background in book publishing, is more focused on the positives. The possibility of the global market opening up for local books, for example.
“Certain categories will switch to the e-format faster - like computer books for obvious reasons and then genres like romance, sci-fi and fantasy where the readers are huge consumers of books,” he says. “They’re the ones who will take to this technology quickly.”
As for the experience of reading a book digitally, Taylor gives it the thumbs up. “I think it’s a great experience…exceedingly good,” he says. “It’s a close facsimile of ink on paper with some advantages. You can change the font size if you’d rather read with larger type, for instance, and also one device carries a lot of material.”
So is the book as we know it practically dead? Taylor doesn’t think so. He envisages paper books being around for many decades to come with large format, colour books being the last to go digital. He does however see the writing on the wall for bookstores trying to make their profits largely from mainstream fiction.
“They’ll have a harder job than the independents,” says Taylor. “But I think good book stores are going to do incredibly well. The ones with better book selection, chosen carefully to give you interesting, surprising choices in a nice environment.
There’ll be a market for that for quite a long time.”