From P to E: Embracing Digital Change – Conference Keynote Speech

Linda Bennett of Gold Leaf gave the keynote speech.  She offered a short potted history of ebooks in the UK, before listing the knotty issues that have been associated with them ever since the first commercially-available ebooks were launched here in 2000.  Key among the issues she identified were:

  • There is some evidence that print has been ‘cannibalised’ by ebooks, but far more evidence that publishers have opened up new markets and attracted new types of customer through ebook sales. What the industry has addressed less satisfactorily are sustainable pricing models for ebooks.  Ironically, it has taken an industry outsider – Apple – to point out the suicidal nature of some pricing models, and Apple itself has been rapped over the knuckles for this.  For academic publishers, the biggest question has still to be solved: how to arrive at a fair and sustainable institutional business model for e-textbooks.
  • In an effort to appease librarians’ dislike of the ‘one book, one user’ business model, ingenious alternatives have proliferated.   Librarians are now much more willing to experiment than they were in the early years of ebooks. Patron-select or evidence-based purchasing models, part-year rentals and even pay-per-view have all proved successful in some quarters.
  • DRM (Digital Rights Management) remains a hot potato.  Other forms of copyright protection have been tried – notably ‘social watermarking’ – and some publishers have abandoned DRM for institutional sales; the ‘one book, one user’ retail model has been relaxed in a suitably controlled way by some publishers.
  • Academics and students are much more receptive to the idea of using ebooks than they were seven years ago, although there is still a ‘skills gap’ among a significant number of academics, and the academic sector as a whole still complains that many of the titles that it wants in digital format have yet to be digitised (largely because of the e-textbook issue).
  • Academic publishers are slowly beginning to produce ‘enhanced’ ebooks.

No-one now doubts that the traditional publishing supply chain will be radically reconfigured. It is probably not too dramatic to say that publishers are no longer the sole authors of their destiny here: the emerging shape of the supply chain will be significantly influenced by the business models favoured by the internet giants. It will also be heavily influenced by print on demand, as publishers search for printers who can deliver a fine product quickly without the necessity to tie up capital in costly stock and warehousing outlay.