While much progress has been made in digitising content in the professional and academic sectors, many of the challenges facing both booksellers and publishers remain in the general book trade. In particular, there have been limited e-book sales worldwide to date, representing less than one per cent of print book sales. This report recognises that book publishing was not one industry but several that were joined in the past by a common format - the book. However when content is digitised these different sectors diverge at different speeds and respond to different consumer needs. Reading fiction is different to an academic monograph, or a reference book, or a travel book. Each now needs to be understood not from a format perspective, but from a reader?s one.
Key highlights from the report include: The potential growth of the digital market. Within the last ten years consumers have embraced the internet. High speed access is accelerating and by 2007 it is estimated that worldwide there will be 320 million households with broadband access. It is also estimated that eight per cent of total consumer sales in the UK are now generated online.
Lessons learnt from other industries. The music industry, in particular, has been hugely affected by digital content with consumers downloading music from legal ? and illegal ? sources onto iPods and other MP3 players. Predictions are that the digital audiobook download market will enjoy an earlier market than that of e-books and pave the way for e-books to flourish.
How different parts of the world have developed and embraced digital content. In China, for instance, in order to avoid all the physical costs associated with textbooks, the government has decided to supply 165 million students with an e-reader. In Japan, nearly half the population are already subscribing to entertainment content services on their mobile phones.
Search engines. New entrants have declared their digital book intent and are now moving into the marketplace. These vary significantly from new start ups, to the internet giants such as Google, MSN and Yahoo. Digital content is increasingly being used to facilitate search and discovery. It will also provide the ultimate authentication and relevance check, in effect providing consumers with the same experience they enjoy by touching the book in the bookstore.
E-book readers. Technology, in the form of an e-book reader, is viewed by many as the key to driving digital content. Others see not a single dedicated device but a convergence of mobile technologies providing the e-book solution. It is clear that new and better devices are coming to the market, but what is not clear is whether these will provide the consumer ?tipping point? like the iPod did with music.
Potential markets. The technically savvy young are seen by many as the audience for digital content and this may be the case in certain sectors. However, it must be recognised that the ?silver surfers? are also getting switched on to digital content, have greater disposable income and read more books. The older grey market may also be less price sensitive and will buy more e-books, a-books (audio) and p-books (physical).
Consumers. Consumer demands are analysed in the report from the political, environmental, social and technical perspectives. It recognises that books are often read differently by different groups and that some are perfectly suited to a digital age. The big question is whether the consumer is prepared to pay for digital content and the associated potential commercial conflicts with the emerging library and social publishing models.