At the risk of making this Macmillan News Week (feel free to send me your email@example.com!), it has come to my attention that Sara Lloyd, Head of Digital Publishing at Pan Macmillan and friend of the show, was appearing live on BBC2’s Working Lunch while I was at the London Book Fair this week.
She was sharing a sofa with Danuta Kean, a commentator on publishing. Like everyone else, they were talking about the digital future of the book.
The iPod was a revolutionary piece of technology that has completely changed the way we listen to music. Will an e-reader do the same for books? And are we ready for it?
Danuta Kean: “You’ve got those [publishers]who are moving forward, and they’re in a tiny number, and then an awful lot who are going ‘yeah, but I can’t read an e-book in the bath’. None of them are anticipating the iPod moment, where you had MP3 players for a while before the iPod came along, and then suddenly you had this glorious bit of technology that made it simple for everybody and we all wanted one.”
Sara Lloyd: “There are genuine areas of activity and creativity in the industry, such as childrens publishing… there are things going on but it needs to be a much more organic part of the industry. At the moment it’s in pockets – web departments are still quite separate and not part of the whole culture.”
While none of the e-readers on the market quite hit the mark at the moment, things will change. E-paper is in development (see previous posting on the future of the book), and is already employed in the Sony e-book Reader.
As Sara points out, convergence is key. Apple’s iPhone already combines an MP3 player with a web browser with a phone. What would the world be like if you could also read a book or newspaper, comfortably and portably on the same device? If you could subscribe to a magazine in the way that we now subscribe to podcasts? Apart from saving a lot of trees, the business of publishing would change beyond recognition. This is an opportunity, not a threat, if we adapt to it.
And when are we going to shake off this obsession with reading in the bath?
The iPod analogy is spot on. As soon as that glorious new piece of technology comes along, you’ll be the first to know. I shall announce the iPod moment on these pages. It could be sooner than you think.