BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Martin, Bill and Tian, Xuemei. Books, bytes and business: the promise of digital publishing. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010. xviii, 279 p. ISBN 9780754678373. £70.00.
This impressive monograph developed from a research project deals with books (or rather publishing), bytes (changes in publishing and book distribution technologies), and publishing as a business. In fact, it is mainly about publishing business rather than anything else. This is not a criticism, just a statement of a fact. The topic is an important and relevant one in Australia, America, Europe and elsewhere. The last decade has introduced significant changes into the book publishing as business by changing the habits of reading audiences, ways of book production and channels of their distribution, but mainly the economics and the markets. Thus, the decision of the authors to devote a largest part of the book to book publishing as a business activity is entirely justified.
They provide a solid introduction into modern book publishing and into technology that is most relevant to book production and usage in the first two parts (Books and Bytes). These two parts are based on solid review of literature and a variety of sources reflecting research and practice of modern publishers, reading audiences, distributors, etc. The authors manage to touch upon most of the problems regarding books in 21st century. I was also attracted to their capability to deal with those problems in a dialectic way, considering several contrasting aspects and perspectives. Even Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web, which are viewed usually as an ultimate blessing are quite critically assessed from the point of view of their impact on book publishing.
The third part is devoted to business. In addition to the literature, the authors have derived significant insights from their own research. The main focus is on business strategies and models, supply and value chains of knowledge-intensive organizations. Both previous chapters are drawn into depicting transformation of publishing businesses and the new roles required for their survival in increasingly independent content production, distribution and use environments. The authors attempt to keep the text comprehensible and transparent and mainly succeed in this, though a very careful and picky reader will find some terminological inconsistencies or statements that are not quite clear or logical. But the case study of business models for book publishing in Australia (Chapter 9) is comprehensive and can be used in any country.
I also enjoyed the figures in the book, which are mainly built as traditional box models (or whatever you may call this type of images). However, each of them present a very clear structure with well identified relationships between model elements, well represented processes and even the most complicated ones do not take much time to read them. Some are very informative and summarize the textual material in an effective way.
The chapter dealing with the future is not very futuristic, it is mainly businesslike attempts to find suitable responses to very contemporary processes in business markets. So, it may be quite a good way for the publishers for assessing the future of their enterprises in the light of the material in this chapter. Businesses are not concerned with far away futures anyway.
I would recommend the book to all the universities delivering publishing programmes and courses on any level. The first two parts can serve the ones on more introductory level, while the third one will suit the needs of the advanced modules and students. I am sure that some publishing companies should read or at least scan the book looking for ideas on possible business solutions.