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Subscription Publishers

Publishers can accomplish all the above aims by becoming subscription services, charging subscribers a small monthly fee for the ability to get any of their books electronically over the phone, at a small cost per book. Among other business advantages detailed later in this report, such publishers are immune from pirates.

These publishers can also benefit education and science. Further, they may speed up technology transfer from the research lab to the factory floor. Both education and science flourish when information is easily and widely available, and easy to distribute, compare, refine, search, and collate. The subscription scheme can make marketable information cheap, easily available electronically, and easily translatable from one electronic medium to another.

And publishing will cost less, so more people can become publishers, thereby increasing title diversity. More diversity seems necessary when 2 percent of all publishers produce about 75 percent of all U.S. book titles, and when the 3 largest bookstore chains generate about 40 percent of all retail bookstore revenue [35]. The U.S. now has about 6,500 independent bookstores and the top 3 chains own about 2,750 outlets.

More publishers would increase title diversity leaving the market to decide which are good--as is true on the electronic network, but not in print. When everything is committed to paper the few can control what the many can read by controlling the bottleneck--the printer. That is like letting Kodak control the movie industry since it produces the most film.

The electronic network is the equivalent of the road system today. Instead of killing trees, printing books, loading a truck, train, plane, or ship with crates of books, expending oil and human labor to transport them to various retailers, polluting the environment, and taking days to do so, any book can be sent on demand directly from the publisher to any reader in the world in seconds. This is also true for any other information--movies, software, music, television shows, or radio shows.

Books can be more easily distributed if they were electronic, and publishers can profit without copy protecting their books. The scheme makes books cheaper both to publishers and to readers, reduces the risks of publishing, and increases publisher profit. It works by shifting the publishing emphasis from betting that one particular title will be a bestseller to maintaining many readers of at least one title.

In a decade, publishers will be back to doing what they do today. Once the novelty of electronic books wears off, publishers will again compete to ensure that their product is better designed, better packaged, and better promoted than that of their competitors. But because of the coming economic dislocation, in the intervening decade unprepared publishers may fail.

This report examines the threats to contemporary publishing, describes the advantages that are forcing it into existence, and presents a way for publishers to succeed in the new publishing. It concentrates on possible electronic formats, revenue sources, and distribution channels of the publishing industry. And it briefly mentions changes in the publishing process itself, and governmental, geopolitical, economic, legal, and social changes brought on by the new milieu. It is biased toward the interests of scientists, technologists, and educators.

next up previous contents
Next: Threats to Contemporary Publishing Up: Overview Previous: Electronic Books and Copy
Gregory J. E. Rawlins