Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hold on to your hardbacks ... we're in the middle of an ebook e-ruption

Technological change in the world of books is coming so thick and fast it's hard to keep up

Robert McCrum Monday 26 July 2010 

These are heady times for the cultural commentator. Change in the world of books is coming so thick and fast it's hard to keep up. Scarcely have we adjusted to one innovation than up pops something new to change the picture yet again.
Take the case of ebooks. For about five years, perhaps longer, they were little more than a gleam in the eye. On the wilder shores of futuristic literary speculation, there were more or less abstract, and largely theoretical, discussions about what shape the digitised text would take once the new technology had become commercially viable.
Then came the Kindle – the market leader, though not necessarily the best, of the e-readers. That was followed by Amazon's determination to use the Kindle to broaden and strengthen its role in the literary marketplace. The combination of the new technology plus a commercially aggressive strategy soon gained traction.
Last year saw the first signs of a defection from traditional book publishing towards e-publishing, with the decision of business writer Stephen Covey to bypass his regular publisher and sign an ebook contract elsewhere. Coincidentally, Random House unilaterally decided to claim ebook rights in its backlist authors, a move that amounted to a declaration of war on the US agenting establishment.
The Random House move took place barely six months ago. At the time, I predicted it could be a milestone. I was wrong. The Random House move, plus a number of smaller tipping points, has started a revolution whose outcome no one can possibly be sure of. One thing is certain: we are in the middle of an earthquake.
First came the iPad. This was swiftly followed by the news that ebooks are now outselling hardbacks on Amazon. Such economic and technological change was bound to have a cultural consequence.
McCrum's full piece at The Guardian 0nline.

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