Peter Brantley runs a newsgroup to which he feeds interesting links (interesting to the bunch of publisher, web 2.0-type people that go onto the Reading 2.0 list he curates). Peter mentioned my Digital Book Pricing blog on Friday, and there followed a burst of highly opinionated and expert views, about 30 emails by my count, some of them lengthy and thought-out. Some of these postings may go on to the web, in which case I will link to the record. I meanwhile spent the weekend in the mountains, and was only within Blackberry range of the debate. Since I agreed with quite a lot of the feedback, and much of it was not really about my original posting there was no compulsion to peck away at the bb.

One thing that struck me was how sure many of us are about the way the future is going to unroll. Surely certainty is not warranted in this field. Two years ago, we none of us knew about the iPhone or the Kindle.

Some of the digital experts in this Reading 2.0 group are very sceptical and gloomy about the prospects for publishers from the digital wave. Some are much more bullish. I incline towards the bullish wing. Here are three reasons for being bullish about the digital future for book publishing, even if prices generally come down, or flatten, as we go digital:

  1. For some sorts of books (especially books which in print would be low-cost, and mass market) digital publishing will open up an attractive source of advertising revenue. Advertising revenues from digital editions will be particularly interesting for books such as travel guides, which are already able to capture advertising in their print editions. But travel is only one example…..
  2. Paradoxically, the increasing prevalence and superabundance of advertising-backed and ‘free’ literature may provide a renewed impetus and validation for subscription-based digital services. The advantages of ‘advertising-free’ or ‘privacy-controlled’ subscriptions may be an important driver for certain kinds of digital publishing. Not perhaps for ‘sky-high’ subscriptions, but for consumer-level subscriptions and fees which mark one’s affiliations and aspirations.
  3. Digital Libraries will be another source of strength to publishers who can produce and promote high quality literary services. For many types of publishing the digital wave will be a much better opportunity to develop proper library markets than the printed book offered. Libraries and librarians will be looking for affordable, high quality digital services that meet the needs of their audiences. Subscription services should aim to target both the individual consumer and the institutional and public library market. Book publishers are very lucky that in most developed countries there is a public library market which supports and encourages the value of the publisher’s output. Music publishers have never had this advantage to any significant extent.