Distribution Goes Digital
“We are leading the pack by building a digital warehouse, which is the digital equivalent of our print warehouse,” commented Jane Friedman, president and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, in the May issue of Book Business. This is the ultimate sign-off on the industry’s embrace of the future, and its take-back of content control from trailblazers such as Google, Amazon and Yahoo.
For some years now, various technology vendors have enabled publishers to deliver electronically formatted versions of their titles for special purposes. These have included applications such as conversions to XML formats (e.g., Publishing Dimensions), proprietary e-book reader formats (Mobipocket), sight-impaired applications (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard/NIMAS), archiving and storing electronic versions of titles for other uses (OverDrive Inc.), PDF archives to drive on-demand printing (Lightning Source Inc.), licensing content to be sold in turn by subscription or sale for limited use (NetLibrary), browse-inside applications by e-tailers (Amazon) and specially targeted online libraries for education, training and business (ebrary Inc., Books24x7 Inc.).
This model of diversified outsourcing options seemed OK for the purpose, as no one expected any broad general trade or consumer revenue to spring from these applications. In addition, the targeted professional, STM (scientific, technical, medical) and academic electronic channels were tightly straitjacketed by rights-management hurdles in a market where access was generally paid for by corporations or institutions. Users were interested primarily in chunks of information when needed, rather than carrying books around for immersive reading or holding them in personal libraries.
What Happened to Alert the
So, what happened to alert HarperCollins, Random House Inc. and the other major trade players to do what many reference, STM and smaller publishers were happy to allow others to do for (or with) them in order to gain wider exposure?
What happened, as Mike Shatzkin—founder and CEO of publishing consultancy The Idea Logical Co.—said at the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Making Information Pay conference in May, was that what seemed of marginal consequence became both a major threat as well as an opportunity. Google launched its Book Search, which scanned the entire contents of copyrighted books to make them searchable, and Amazon launched its Upgrade program, by which it offered online viewing of an entire book for an extra charge with the book’s purchase. (You can access Shatzkin’s complete presentation at Idealog.com/speeches/mipdads.htm.)
- Books24x7 Inc.
- Ebrary Inc.
- Independent Publishers Group
- Ingram Digital
- Libre Digital
- Lightning Source Inc.
- Lightspeed LLC
- Macmillan Publishing Solutions
- NewsStand Inc.
- Overdrive Inc.
- Publishing Dimensions
- Random House Inc.
- The Book Industry Study Group
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.