A Digital Divide?



It seems that every time the death of the book business is proclaimed, the publishing industry shifts a bit and some light appears at the end of the tunnel. For example, a piece in the Sept. 4 New York Times announced that small, independent book publishers were going to be offered new technology that would allow them to have easier access to the digital book world. The service would be offered by the Perseus Book Group through an arrangement it has with a number of technology companies.

Unlike the large publishers, independents generally don't have the resources to utilize digital technology and, so, tend to bypass it completely. According to Times reporter Julie Bosman, the new service, known as Constellation, will allow these independents to make use of electronic readers, digital book search, print-on-demand and other digital formats at rates that Perseus will negotiate for them.

David Steinberger, president and chief executive of Perseus, said that "by using Constellation independent publishers could make their books quickly available in several digital formats, allowing them to compete on the same technological level and with the same speed and flexibility as larger companies." This is particularly important since a number of analysts consider digital technology to be one of the few major growth areas in book publishing for now and the foreseeable future.

Both Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com, noted Bosman, offer book-buyers the ability of reading or searching inside a text, and such tools are said to increase sales; and digital printing technologies allow publishers the ability to reprint a book when it becomes hot again or if demand increases unexpectedly.

Perseus Books Group, one of the largest of the independents that deals with general-interest books, includes a number of imprints, like Basic Books and Vanguard Press, and also provides sales, marketing and distribution services to more than 300 independents. For Steinberger, Constellation constitutes an expansion of Perseus' distribution services.

The companies involved in the deal, according to Bosman, include Google, for its Google Book Search feature; Amazon, for its Kindle electronic reader; Sony, for its Sony Reader; Barnes & Noble, for its "See Inside" feature on its Web site; and Lightning Source, a print-on-demand company.

"Publishers who use the new service can provide a single digital book file to Constellation and specify how they would like it to be used," noted the reporter. "As a result consumers may see more obscure, esoteric books available in digital formats."

Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Group, told the Times that "the biggest problem in the book world is availability — measuring how many books you think you need. What you will have now is the development of this ability on behalf of publishers to produce their books any way the consumer wants them. That's why all of this matters."  


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