Here's my latest at The Register - some thoughts based on my recent trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair:
If some of the speakers at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair are to be believed, your life — or at least the part of it that involves snuggling up in bed with a good book and mug of hot cocoa — is about to be turned upside down.
Sure, we've heard plenty on books going electronic, but the coverage mostly focuses on the devices — Kindles, iPads, et al. — rather than the books themselves.
I've written a number of books on software development, and recently began my own publishing company, Fingerpress. I therefore approached this event from the perspective of an upstart book publisher trying to figure out how our published works should fit into the e-publishing space.
I expected the answer to be a bewildering mix of grey areas, but surprisingly — despite the diversity on offer — the answer turned out to be quite clear-cut.
Der Frankfurter Buchmesse 2010's crowded halls feature several so-called technology Hot Spots. The Devices Hot Spot is oddly named because it isn't about devices. Instead it features advances in content creation and delivery — that murky zone in between the device and the customer. One company inhabiting this area is exhibitor Stilo, which specialize in converting content into XML and EPUB formats. Smashwords, which wasn't at the show, converts to a much broader range of platforms for free — provided you use their distribution service, of course.
The Mobile Hot Spot was exactly that, while the Information Management Hot Spot supposedly bought together "the latest developments in workflow processes, content management systems, multimedia integration and advanced content delivery platforms."
There were also Hot Spots for publishing services, literature, special interest (top shelf, sir?), and education.
The predominant message behind almost all of the tech exhibitors at each Hot Spot was this: e-books are here, they're cool, and we should all be using them. Whether that's actually true or not is a different matter.
. . .
The problem is that books — novels especially — are entrenched in our habits and expectations. People love a good novel, and that's unlikely to change. They don't want the formula to be messed with too much. And as for fragmentation? It's always been easier to print a leaflet than a novel, but novels still sell by the million, whereas "short-shorts" don't.
What is changing, and rapidly, is the way that books are delivered to us, along with the medium the words are displayed on. From the Apple iBookstore to Kindle to Kobo, it's never been easier to buy a book and be reading it a few seconds later. And while the device is where the excitement is, the real war is to potentially own the e-publishing "middle tier" — the site that readers go to in order to buy their books.