Books, Bytes, and Business: The Promise of Digital Publishing

Chris Taylor (Lecturer, Information and Systems, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 11 October 2011




Taylor, C. (2011), "Books, Bytes, and Business: The Promise of Digital Publishing", Library Review, Vol. 60 No. 9, pp. 841-843.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The premise of Books, Bytes and Business: The Promise of Digital Publishing is sound, commendable and timely. For of all the industries currently grappling with technology‐initiated change, book publishing arguably faces the most significant challenges. From the digitisation of content to the e‐commerce marketplace, publishing is having to deal with change of seismic proportions, the momentum of which is increasing with every new device, application and service that appears on the market. As such, book publishing provides the ideal case‐study to explore the shifting commercial landscape and it is credit to the authors of this text that they fully appreciate this and attempt to provide an analysis that contributes to the wider discourse on emergent business models in the digital environment. Such a broad scope however, does have its drawbacks and at times Books, Bytes and Business feels like it's overstretching itself in terms of the range of content it attempts to cover, resulting in some over generic discussion.

In line with its title, Books, Bytes and Business is presented in three distinct parts, beginning with an analysis of the book publishing industry. Though seemingly logical, this approach does sometimes feel rather contrived and restrictive, and the opening part of the book clearly demonstrates this, with digitisation being discussed in greater depth within the “Books” section than it is in the “Bytes” (technology) part of the book. Having said this, the opening part of the book does provide a decent, overview of the state of publishing today and, as with the book in general, a very good range of references, from specific industry research to leading management and strategy sources, are used to support the analysis. The balance here between general context and relevant specifics is generally managed well and examples are used to good effect.

Part 2 of the book moves on to discuss the technical developments impacting on the publishing industry with a justified emphasis on the internet and associated web technologies. Unfortunately, I found this part of the book the least satisfying section for a number of reasons, all of which relate back to the (over?) ambitious scope of the book. In basic terms, I found the balance between the discussion of relevant general technologies (e.g. social media, virtual worlds, smartphones, etc.) and the analysis of more specific technologies (e.g. eBook standards, metadata and DRM) was not quite right, and I personally was left wanting in terms of my understanding of the evolving technological landscape driving forward the developments in this area. This is not to say that these issues are not discussed, and in fact the case studies that are presented towards the end to the book provide a lot of detail regarding technical considerations and implementation, I just feel a more thorough analysis was warranted in this specific technology section.

The final part of the book deals with the complex developments that are shaping the business structures and strategies of the publishing industry. This section is by far the longest of the book and provides a comprehensive, far‐reaching review of the nature of “knowledge intensive organisations” associated business models, supply chains and value networks. The real value of Books Bytes and Business resides in this part of the book as the discussion here makes very good use of the research project from which this text was developed. Detailed, insightful case studies are used extensively throughout this section to fully contextualise the management/business theory discussed, and to provide real world examples from which a clear picture of the transient, challenging nature of book publishing emerges. The conclusions reached regarding the future of the publishing industry are thought‐provoking and valuable, and underline the importance of further research in this culturally significant area.

There is much to admire in Book, Bytes and Business, most notably the primary research from which it developed and the ambition of its scope. However, these two strengths, in many ways contribute to the book's shortcomings. Developing a research project into a monograph is no small undertaking and often, as in this case, requires an extension of scope that compromises consistency and focus. Furthermore, the actual research project that initiated this text, although of obvious quality, was limited in terms of its geographical focus (Australia), which raises some questions regarding the authority of the analysis in a global context. Also, the research is now over two years old, and although currency is always going to be an unavoidable issue in a published work focused on internet‐related technology, it is feature of this book that does impact on its value. Having said this, the amount of information presented in the book, combined with the valuable case studies, does make for an interesting read that would be particularly useful for students studying librarianship or media/cultural studies or, more generally, for anybody interested in the current and future state of the business of book publishing.

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