Sunday, March 7, 2010

Local publishers rush to fill digital demand

Splashing ink on paper is no longer enough for book publishers. As sales of physical books decline, more readers are buying books in electronic form and reading them on devices like the Kindle.
Local publishers are rushing to capture the demand for digital content, adding video and interactive maps to e-books available on readers or cell phones. Others are building machines, similar to an ATM, that print books on the spot from a digital catalog.

Others are gearing up to showcase authors on newer formats such as Apple's iPad, which will be sold later this year.

"The technology is leading us," said Rolf Zettersten, publisher of Hachette Book Group's Nashville division. "I think everyone is responding to what technology can afford to do for us."

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Last week, Hachette in Nashville launched its first iPhone applications for Liz Allison's book The Ultimate NASCAR Insider's Track Guide: Everything You Need to Plan Your Race Weekend .

Racing fans can buy five 99-cent iPhone applications that offer suggestions to nearby hotels and restaurants for five NASCAR racetracks in Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Daytona Beach, Fla.; Fontana, Calif.; and Las Vegas. Additional guides for other NASCAR racetracks will follow. Hachette is in the process of developing the concept for use on the iPad.

"It's all part of the enriched experience people are expecting to get with a device like the iPad," Zettersten said.

Analysts say most Nashville-area publishers have been a little slow to launch iPhone applications compared to other publishing houses, but that doesn't mean they can't play catch-up.

"It all depends on two things: The amount of money they have to invest in this and how fast their market and consumers move in that direction," said Albert Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University.

E-book demand rising

One thing is clear. The demand for e-books is accelerating, although it still represents just 3 percent of the industry's overall sales, according to New York-based Association of American Publishers. In 2008, electronic consumer book sales totaled $78 million, Greco said. Last year, that grew to an estimated
$150 million to $155 million.

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