For a decade, the book publishing industry has been waiting to be chewed up and spit out by the digital beast. Although the internet has significantly impacted how books are distributed and sold, nothing had changed the book as a medium — until now.
A recent article in the Times combines three signature events. The first is Google making a deal with writers and publishers over their Book Search project, which will result in the digitization and easy access of literally millions of books online (many if not most of them out of print).
The second is the (relative) success of Amazon’s Kindle. The Kindle interface is still a kludge, but it’s standalone, wireless connection to Amazon via the internet to download books, magazines — even the daily paper — is positively elegant.
The third is the ubiquity of bookreading software for the iPhone, particularly in Japan.
eHeads are still waiting for Apple to do for books what they’ve done for music. If such an event came to pass, the ebook market would explode. Alternatively, Kindle, or Sony, which also has an ebook reader, could combine the Kindle’s ease of connectivity with the iPhone’s ergonomic wit, to create a book technology killer.
For publishers, print is so expensive to produce, distribute and market, they should cheer the devouring of their near 600-year-old technology by the beast. But it’s very hard to reinvent industries from the inside, or even just to be excited by the prospect of a fresh start.