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The e-book is clearly a disruptive technology, changing the relationships among the actors in the book production and use chain, potentially changing the text book market, changing the relationship between the reader and the text, and more.

Currently, the two areas of major disruption appear to be the relationships between libraries and publishers, and between publishers and booksellers.  To take the last first, we’ve probably all seen the announcements of Barnes and Noble’s intention to close more of its stores in the USA.  This follows on the collapse of Borders (whose Web address, ironically, appears to have been taken up by Barnes and Noble – try clicking on http://www.borders.com).

There have been headlines such as, Barnes & Noble plans to cut stores by about 30% in decade, and more than one blogger has commented on the irony that the closure of many small independent bookstores around the USA was the result of B&N’s expansion and price-cutting.

Fewer bookstores means smaller advance orders for publishers – and perhaps smaller advances for authors!  In other words, within this production, distribution and use chain, the impact of change in one part has implications for the others.  With fewer bookshops, will library use increase?

The publisher:library relationship is also changing, with publishers selling (or refusing to sell) e-books to libraries directly, rather than through bookshops or library supply services, and imposing either higher prices or restrictive terms of use.  In the USA, the American Library Association has responded by proposing a business model scorecard for public libraries in negotiating e-book licensing deals.

One might ask: is all this the result only of the the emergence of the e-book, which, after all, is still a minority interest: typically, for example, e-book loans account for only 2-3% of all lending. Amazon’s domination of the online bookshop market probably has more to do with the demise of Borders and the reductions taking place at B&N.

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