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The year ends with a surprise

31 December 2012

December ended with a piece of news combining the two big news stories of the year - the continued rise of the ereader market and the efforts of Pearson to work out a future for itself. Pearson, paren tcompany of Penguin, announced that it had moved into the ereader market by taking a 5% stake in Barnes & Noble's new digital books and college bookstore unit for $89.5m (£55m).

This news was all the more remarkable because it was released on the same day as Barnes & Noble, the world's largest bookstore chain, announced that its digital business would not meet 2013 projections.

Pearson's intention appears to be to match the company's online learning expertise with Nook Media's online distribution and customer service to go up against Amazon. Too late perhaps, two of the giants of the publishing and bookselling business have realised the monopoly threat which Amazon poses to their businesses. But can it be stopped or even limited?

In spite of poor results in profit terms, the growth of the behemoth which is Amazon today has been rapid and mostly unopposed. Amazon has long ago moved on from books, undoubtedly a good starting-point for an internet retailer with global aspirations, and is now fast becoming or has become the internet retailer. By making everything very streamlined for its customers and offering good prices on bestselling items, it has proved irresistible.

The Kindle has been a massive success and the degree to which it has built a captive audience should not be underestimated, even though the pundits say that consumers are moving on to tablets.

So where does that leave other booksellers, and publishers for that matter? What will the outcome be for authors? Accurate crystal balls are in short supply, so I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what the New Year brings in terms of further change in the book trade. One safe assumption seems to be that it will be rapid and probably radical - and that it may well surprise us all.

Happy New Year!