Skip to Content

Quiet Growth in E-Books

11 March 2002

With the hype about the e-book revolution now seeming quaintly old-fashioned and big publishers such as Time Warner and Random House scaling back their e-publishing ventures, it's easy to assume that e-books are a complete failure, part of the collapse of the dot-com dream. However, the truth is that a market for e-books is quietly developing. US publishers such as Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins and St Martin's Press have achieved at least 10% growth over the last year. At the more dedicated end of the market, now offers more than 1,000 titles and has 30,000 members. Palm, which has a strong interest in developing this market to create demand for its hand-held reading devices, claims to have sold nearly 180,000 e-books in 2001 and to be acquiring 1,000 new customers a week.

Big publishers may have found that e-publishing is not going to take off in the way they had originally predicted, but they are still concerned about the outcome of the Random House v Rosetta Books appeal (see News Reviews 29, 27 and 17 for earlier reports on this story). If digital rights are not implicit in book contracts, then the e-book rights in a vast number of backlist titles will be up for grabs. The big publishers know their expectations of the e-book market were wildly over-optimistic, but they don't think the market's gone away either, and they don't want to find another company exploiting 'their' backlist.