Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book sales on rise despite technology

By Andrew Trounson, The Australian, January 21, 2010

VIDEO may have killed the radio star but it didn't kill cinema goers, and neither is technology likely to kill traditional book readers.
Despite the onslaught of new media such as computer games, and online digital video and music, a study of Australia's book industry estimates sales revenue is set to grow by a healthy 8 per cent annually for the next two years. Australians buy an average of 10 books a year, amounting to more than $1.7 billion in industry revenue.
And while electronic books may move into the mainstream with electronic reading devices such as Amazon's Kindle and Apple's anticipated Apple Tablet, study author and publishing expert Mark Davis says traditional book lovers should not be worried.

He said the uptake in ebooks would supplement rather than replace books in the same way that video brought films into the home without destroying demand for the big screen experience.
"Old media doesn't get a lot of attention in a world where there is a lot of new media, but in fact people have a strong book buying habit," said Melbourne University's Professor Davis.
"There is a ritual to reading that people like to go through and I think a lot of people will continue to be attached to that ritual," he said, adding that people enjoy going into a "private reverie" when browsing bookstore shelves.

Nevertheless, he believes this is the year when ebooks begin to emerge from being something seen as only for "geeks" to becoming a mass market phenomena.

He said anxieties among publishers over digital piracy had been holding back the industry, which had been spooked by the havoc wrought on the music industry by illegal downloading and file-sharing. But he said the advances in digital reading devices meant the industry would have to give up on a failsafe solution to piracy. While ebooks on a device such as the Kindle are copy protected, the internet is already home to pirated versions of best sellers.

Professor Davis said the emergence of ebooks was likely to lead to publishers adding an electronic version to the books they published, except for some expensive niche books such as academic papers likely to migrate entirely into the digital world. The cheap cost of digital publishing could be expected to rejuvenate backlists.

The University of Melbourne Book Survey shows a bounce-back from the introduction of the GST, when sales revenue growth slumped to 1.6 per cent a year between 1999-2000 and 2003-04, down from 7.5 per cent between 1995-96 and 1999-2000. Since 2004, growth averaged 6.5 per cent.

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