The iPad and its kind are both a boon and a bane for book publishers
JOHN GRISHAM, a prolific author of legal thrillers, long refused to allow his books to be sold in electronic form. In a television interview last year, he lamented that e-books and heavy discounting of printed books by big retailers were “a disaster in the long term” for the publishing industry. But last month Mr Grisham’s publisher announced that the author had had a change of heart: henceforth all of his books will be available in virtual form. His timing was impeccable. On April 3rd Apple is due to start shipping the first of its iPad tablet computers, which are expected to give a big boost to e-book sales.
The iPad’s impending arrival has created commercial intrigue worthy of a Grisham yarn. A group of big publishers, including Macmillan and HarperCollins, have been using Apple’s interest in e-books to persuade Amazon, which currently dominates sales of digital books, to renegotiate its pricing model. At one point in January an angry Amazon briefly removed many of Macmillan’s books from its own virtual shelves before reinstating them after some authors kicked up a fuss.
Like many other parts of the media industry, publishing is being radically reshaped by the growth of the internet. Online retailers are already among the biggest distributors of books. Now e-books threaten to undermine sales of the old-fashioned kind. In response, publishers are trying to shore up their conventional business while preparing for a future in which e-books will represent a much bigger chunk of sales.