Back to the Future (of publishing)

One of the students from Falmouth asked if he could interview me about publishing following my talk there last month. Here’s one of the questions he asked, and my response. (Because I’m determined to return the conversation to the FUTURE of publishing, rather than its past….)

Did you see the emergence of digital literature as a positive asset to the publishing industry, and why?

Of course – right from the beginning, back in the 90s when I was developing reference books, I saw the potential of digital books to allow people to search, link, jump within and between texts, and not least to carry their entire library around with them! There’s also that wonderful frictionless potential to see an intriguing book in someone’s hands or hear about it on the radio and be reading it on your device seconds later. 

Ebooks have the potential to reach anyone with a screen, which is pretty much everyone globally. And the global aspect is important: publishers find it difficult to find viable markets for print books in the developing world, but digital distribution allows anyone with a smartphone to gain access to entertainment, information and education. Combine that with the astonishing improvement in machine translation over recent years and suddenly there’s a potential global market for pretty much any book you can think of, instantly. Yes there are challenges – not least piracy and the concern about what will happen to rights agents and translators in this brave new world – but the potential win for publishers is huge.