(Repeats Oct. 9 story to additional subscribers with no changes
* Electronic reading devices set to become mainstream
* Industry waits for U.S. Google Books settlement
* Dissidents, piracy complicate China's guest of honour role
By Georgina Prodhan
LONDON, Oct 9 The world's book trade will meet
in Frankfurt next week on the brink of a long-feared
transformation of the industry for which few are well prepared.
Electronic reading devices like Amazon's (AMZN.O) Kindle are
set to enter the mass market, starting with a surge in sales
this Christmas holiday season, helped by lower prices, rising
consumer confidence and better distribution outside the United
Like the music and newspaper industries before it, the
book-publishing world now faces vanishing revenues as sales of
physical discs, papers and books give way to far cheaper or free
"Meantime, publishers are distracting themselves by fretting
over the price of eBooks, withholding eBook releases so as not
to cannibalise hardcover book sales, and watching helplessly as
their businesses erode in front of them," analyst Sarah Rotman
Epps of technology research firm Forrester wrote this week.
Forrester estimates 3 million ereaders will be sold in the
United States this year and double that number next year, taking
the total sold to 10 million by the end of 2010 -- excluding
other digital screens, such as phones and PCs. [ID:nN06442999]
There are exceptions in the book industry to the general
lack of enthusiasm for all things digital.
Bookseller Barnes & Noble (BKS.N) is expected soon to launch
its own ereader, which would provide strong competition to the
Kindle and Sony's (6758.T) reader in the market for book-sized
screens that grab and display text from the Web. [ID:nN08538921]
The top U.S. bookstore chain -- America's first bookseller
to advertise on television in the 1970s and also the first to
discount books -- already has the world's largest online
bookstore, which it launched in July.
Barnesandnoble.com sells most of its new releases as ebooks
for $9.99, the same as Amazon, and far cheaper than the physical
versions in most cases. At launch it had over 700,000 titles
readable on a variety of devices like Apple's (AAPL.O) iPhone.
The company has declined to comment on reports it will soon
sell its own wireless touchscreen reading device. "We believe
readers should have access to books in their digital library
from any device, anywhere and any time," a spokeswoman said.
BACK TO LIFE
Most of Barnes & Noble's electronic titles at launch were
out-of-copyright books in the public domain supplied by Google
(GOOG.O), which wants to scan all the world's books and make
them available online.
So far, the Internet giant has scanned 10 million books
through agreements with libraries and publishers, but it has
made enemies along the way by scanning library books without
always gaining prior permission from the rights holders.
Now Google seems to be on the verge of settling a mammoth
lawsuit with U.S. publishers. A final court hearing takes place
on Nov. 9 on the settlement, which would entail Google's helping
to set up a books registry to track down and pay rights holders.
The rest of the world -- especially France and Germany --
continues largely to view Google with suspicion. The company is
sending its top lawyer to Frankfurt to engage once again with
Google argues it can help publishers and authors by enabling
readers to find works online, especially those that are out of
print. For books still in copyright, Google displays text
snippets in answer to search queries, and details of retailers.
"Books that were previously out of print will come back to
life," Santiago de la Mora, Google's head of European print
partnerships, told Reuters. "There are 1.8 billion Internet
users. I'm pretty sure you can find readers for everything."
More digital content opens the door to easier piracy -- a
growing threat from this year's guest of honour at the Frankfurt
Book Fair, China.
Despite its huge potential, China has been one of the most
difficult markets for global media companies, not only because
of strict limitations on their activities there but also as a
result of rampant content piracy.
Media baron Rupert Murdoch, speaking at a media forum in
Beijing on Friday, called on China to open its tightly
controlled media sector, and said governments should clamp down
on piracy. [ID:nHKG168006]
"There should be a price paid for quality content and yet
large media organisations have been submissive in the face of
the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free
all the time," he said, repeating what has become his mantra.
Organisers of the book fair must tread carefully with the
Chinese authorities, whom they have already upset by inviting
dissident authors Dai Qing and Lei Ling to a pre-fair symposium,
resulting in a walkout by some of the Chinese delegation.
"Democracy and freedom of expression always involve friction
and the scandal over the weekend was only the beginning of a
democratic dispute that lies ahead for Guest of Honour China,"
the fair's director, Juergen Boos, wrote in an open letter.
The Frankfurt Book Fair runs from next Wednesday to Sunday.
Last year's event attracted 300,000 visitors and more than 3,000
exhibitors from about 100 countries.
(Editing by Rupert Winchester)