How 2008 Changed the Market for Digital Editions

Keeping the list to manageable lengths, there have been five really important developments this year. Let us work back through the year which as it happens is pretty much the order of importance:

  1. October/November: The depression/recession. Hardly anybody saw this coming and, according to one who did, it may be even worse than we have yet grasped. But the depression is a shot in the arm for digital editions. For exactly the same reason that it is now a good time to be in the business of designing wind farms, building solar panels or battery powered vehicles. Terrible news for Detroit, for airlines, for big city newspapers and dire for the advertising budget of consumer magazines: but there is a substantial new business for the magazines, newspapers and book publishers that can deliver efficient digital services. Digital editions tick all the boxes: energy efficiency, global access, low investment, consumer facing, distance learning, transparency, economies of scale, network enhancing etc.
  2. October. Google settles with the Author’s Guild and AAP. A completely game-shifting agreement. It has still to be finalised and approved by a judge, but it seems likely that the Google system and the new Book Rights Registry will define the shape of the publishing industry for years to come. Digital books will be database-driven, page-oriented, url-guaranteed, access-managed and completely searchable for free. Books will not be freely readable but how they will be sold and subscribed to has yet to be determined. Although the agreement was limited to books in the USA, it seems very likely that the same general regime will apply to books, newspapers and magazines (and other print objects) everywhere. Google Book Search has always been scalable. Game defining and game just started….Publishers of all stripes have still not grasped how much this changes their market, and how big the potential opportunities are for digital publishing in which every publication can be searched, read and referenced through the web. Book publishers are begining to get it, magazine and newspaper publishers are straggling and struggling.
  3. July. Apple launches the 3G iPhone in 22 countries. Perhaps as important the first Android phone appeared in October of this year. The iPhone and the Android phones have been designed to be completely web-capable and this takes the digital edition into the pockets of billions of people who will in the next three years be buying mobile phones with instant web connectivity. If books are on the web as digital editions (see point 2 above) billions of people will be able to read them.
  4. May. Amazon S3. Amazon’s cloud computing was launched in 2006, but this is the year in which it really took off. In May and again in October they reduced charges at all tiers. Cloud computing is the next shape for collective computing and Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure is increasingly attractive to information providers and web services of all kinds. Digital libraries and digital editions are moving into the cloud, and in the same move these buckets of books become shareable and potentially usable by other web applications.
  5. January. Amazon’s Kindle was out of stock despite being one of the must-have presents for Christmas 2007 (except that it was out of stock in December and remained unavailable until April 08, and is unavailable again until March 09). But since that broadly successful launch the device has gone rapidly sideways. Amazon has not been able to launch the product outside the US. They have been very coy about their sales and their plans for the future of the device. This has definitely not been the year of the Kindle. One could say that it has been sidelined by the iPhone — why buy a dedicated device to read books when you can read any web-deliverable object through the device already in your pocket? But they have also been scrunched by the Google Book Search proposition — do we need downloadable books when they are all, always, in the cloud?
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