From paper to tablet
New report about the digitalisation of the book industry in the global competition
The book industry is undergoing rapid changes both in Sweden and globally. The digital development – with smartphones, tablets and other technical solutions – has given the long-standing conventional book industry new possibilities, but it has also created problems as laws and regulations have yet to be revised. There are also different kinds of dividing lines, both between the traditional vs. the digital and between the Anglo-Saxon world and Europe. In general, Anglo-Saxon countries are leading the development, not least when it comes to eBook sales. There are probably many and hard-defined reasons for this but also formal and legal reasons, such as different VAT directives and legislations related to digital production and distribution.
How are international book markets affected by the digitalisation and how is Sweden doing in light of the competition? What is e-commerce like in the European Union and why does Norway differ from the Union?
Initially this topic mainly engaged industry professionals, but it has gradually become a subject of discussion for a wider public. The book market is no longer a narrow industry concern but also a platform for digital businesses, marketing and communication strategies as well as technology innovations, which are often reader/user driven.
The book market continues to grow in the digital reality, but traditional formats and newspapers are under threat. Fewer people read traditional newspapers and the whole pattern of reading is changing, with cutbacks and increasing uncertainty as a result. The crucial question is: will the printed newspaper even exist in a few years time?
The problems concerning the book industry’s new dimensions are elusive – the dynamics makes it difficult to even pinpoint a research subject. John B Thompson, Professor of Sociology at Cambridge University, expresses this frustration in Merchants of culture:
Writing about a present-day industry is always going to be like shooting at a moving target: no sooner have you finished the text than your subject matter has changed. (Thompson, page vi)
This illustrates a contradiction. The rapid changes within the book industry mean that observations and analyses often already seem out-dated when they are published. This rapid development within the book industry is also what makes the subject particularly important to study: the market is being broadened and globalised, there is an increasing number of readers with online connections, the quantity grows exponentially.
The book industry has a very long history and it has been undergoing constant change from the beginning. It is possible that digitalisation is simply another stage in the evolution, but it could also be something bigger: a profound distinction. When different wills collide – to conserve, revolutionise, combine – it thus carries a stronger explosive force than during any previous change. These issues are not just about attitude; they are concretised in direct action.
The following report studies the development of the book industry during the digital revolution, mainly from a Swedish perspective. How do we develop our inner market? How do we promote Sweden’s competitiveness within the globalised framework? Do we seek our own way or strive for common standards? Even seemingly trivial issues such as tax rates on books is of great importance. Should we for example have a common tax on eBooks and/or a common tax on books across the EU?
Katarina O’Nils, writer and publishing editor at Timbro, has written the report From paper to iPad: the book industry’s digital development in the global competition and studies the book industry’s development during the digital revolution, mainly from a Swedish perspective.
On January 29th, 2015 the Swedish Publishers’ Association and the Swedish Booksellers Association will hold the seminar The 2015 Book – Market, trends and analysis, where the author of this report will participate:
“Books at any cost – how new consumer habits affect us all. How is the industry affected when books can be reached by just a click? How does the digitalisation and new consumer habits affect the preconditions for the market? Jonas Arnberg, the Swedish Trade Federation, and Katarina O’Nils, Timbro, speaks.