Digital Watch

We are asked so often about the digitization of book publishing that we have decided to include a digital watch to give you Mutual’s take on the latest developments.

First, ebooks are here, increasing in volume, and will continue to expand. It’s opening up a new platform for selling and delivering books. Whether the business model for ebooks is as profitable as for traditionally printed books remains to be determined.

With the announcement of Apple’s new iPad comes much speculation of whether this new platform will affect book publishing the way the iPod affected the music industry. The iPad will compete with Amazon’s Kindle on a whole new level. With their new application, iBooks, it will be possible to view photo books, in color or in black and white, with video attached; fonts can be chosen, size can be chosen, pages can be turned and enlarged. In addition is the iBookstore which functions the same as iTunes. We’ll see how popular the iPad becomes, but regardless, it’s sure to affect the publishing industry.

What printed books have going for them is that they still make excellent gifts and parents will always want to read to their children from a printed page. They also have strong appeal for older readers. Early indications show that digital books are bought mainly by younger readers and males in the 25-40 year category. Neither group has traditionally been big book buyers, so digitization is opening new markets. The big market for print books are people over age 50, a segment that is growing as the population lives longer.

The big question for the future is “at what point in time will ebooks outsell the printed book? Is it now more plausible that the printed book will become obsolete? As younger readers grow up using printed books less and less, accustomed only to text messaging, will printed books be bought only by the elite?

How will the printed book compete? Books will have to become multimedia packages. It started with books packaged with a CD containing supplementary material. Novels will start containing photos. (Mutual may be doing this when it releases If You Live In a Small House by Sandra Park, Fall 2010.)

It’s an exciting future for publishing, and it’s exciting to be part of a paradigm shift—we are witness to and part of a changing, evolving industry.

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