|Traditional book publishers have had a tough time lately. In the face
of rising competition from various e-book options, many have adapted to
electronic publishing by choosing to partner with companies like netLibrary,
Versaware, and others that offer digital-conversion services. They face
competition for authors from companies like Xlibris and iUniverse, which
provide self-publishing options. And, as reported in this issue, retail
Internet bookstore barnesandnoble.com (http://www.bn.com)
has just entered the digital publishing arena by announcing the creation
of Barnes & Noble Digital, an electronic publishing imprint. (See the
news story on page 33.) The competition is definitely heating up, with
publishers and retailers now fighting each other for authors and paying
customers. (Of course, a similar battle is being waged as database and
journal content publishers compete directly on the Web with online services.)
Industry observers have focused on the fact that Barnes & Noble
Digital is offering its authors a 35-percent royalty rate on sales--much
higher than the usual print royalty or e-book royalty--and is offering
readers low prices for the books (from $5.95 to $7.95), which is quite
a bit lower than other e-book pricing, until now. Some e-book publishers
have charged prices that are almost the same as those of paperback copies.
While some have warned that the pricing could cause a lower perceived value
for e-books, others have speculated that barnesandnoble.com just might
be able to steal authors away and introduce healthy competition into the
industry. (See Wade Roush's article, "Industry Debates Meaning of Barnes
& Noble.com's Entry into ePublishing," at http://www.ebooknet.com/story.jsp?id=4531.)
With book retailers transforming themselves into publishers--and dealing
directly with authors and readers--the traditional publishers could face
being squeezed out. (Oh no, are we hearing "disintermediation" again?)
New York Times reported that Steve Riggio, barnesandnoble.com's vice
chairman and acting CEO, said: "Publishers were slow to react and slow
to embrace electronic books.... In an interesting way, the publisher may
become an unnecessary middleman in the distribution of electronic content
if they really don't do anything to build the market. We have the technology,
the customers, the Web site, the traffic."
Of course, this bookseller-turned-publisher will have to prove itself.
It may know marketing and distribution, but it's untested in the editing
and publishing realm. And, authors will have to decide between a higher
royalty on a lower sales price or a lower royalty with a higher ticket
Meanwhile, in addition to activity in the trade publishing business,
the reference and textbook publishing fields have seen a flurry of digital
publishing initiatives and partnerships. The textbook area, in particular,
is considered to be a key point for development and growth, and has proven
to attract a number of participants looking to capitalize on this opportunity.
The traditional textbook publishers certainly don't want the field to be
snatched up by any digital start-up.
Last month, Houghton Mifflin announced the launch of a digital textbook
initiative with netLibrary's MetaText division (http://www.netlibrary.com).
or page 31 of Information Today's January 2001 issue.) MetaText
has also recently announced plans to develop and manage electronic versions
of college textbooks for Thomson Learning (http://www.thomsonlearning.com).
MetaText willhost the electronic texts in a Web-based learning platform
and make them available for sale to college students in the fall 2001 semester.
MetaText will convert dozens of textbooks from Thomson Learning's South-Western
company, a publisher of business education textbooks, and from the Wadsworth
Group, publisher of humanities, social sciences, and behavioral sciences
This month, Addison-Wesley announced that it is partnering with an e-book
device company to provide digital textbooks for college students (see page
33), while McGraw-Hill announced that it is teaming up with WizeUp Digital
Textbooks to electronically publish, sell, and distribute digital textbooks
for the higher education market (see page 34). I suspect that the announcements
from publishers will just keep flowing in as the education market warms
to the possibilities of the new content-distribution channel, and publishers
make the decision to jump in. Publishers that ignore online distribution
do so at their own peril.
Paula J. Hane, co-editor with Barbara Quint for NewsBreaks, is contributing
editor of Information Today, a former reference librarian, and a
longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address is phane@