I have been following the trends in book publishing, specifically the arrival of ebooks (electronic books), ever since I got my Amazon Kindle last April. Since then, this infant market has grown to toddler stage and, with the recent Macmillan versus Amazon battle, we're seeing, in some cases, the tantrums of a two year old.
It's All About Money
There are three fundamental sides currently involved; publishers, retailers and customers. Each side wants to protect their turf, and the turf, in all cases, is money.
The book publishers want to defend the way they have always done business and, as of the last two years, for which we have some statistics (we'll call this pre-ebook), the number of books published in the U.S. has flattened (2006 to 2007 = 4% and 2007 to 2008 = -3%).
If you take into account the economic recession and rising costs of raw materials, the publishers have been squeezed. Suddenly, with the release of the electronic readers, Kindle, Sony and the nook, the publishers perceive them as a threat to the status quo. Electronics books sell for less than hardcovers and, in some cases also less than paperback books. Book publishing saw what happened to the music industry; the mass marketing of artists tracks through Apple's iTunes and other online merchants, which brought about lower prices and less margin.
Digital Photography Set The Stage
There is some precedent with what's been happening with ebooks. The photographic market went from all film to mostly digital in the last two decades. That industry saw an almost complete demise of film production and processing which reverberated through drug stores, department stores, camera retailers, film laboratories and camera manufacturers.
The music industry also saw a transformation from analog (records and tapes) to digital (CD-ROMS and MP3 files) and now, there are rumblings that even CD-ROMs will disappear.
The book and music publishers have been trying to hold their ground by declaring "ownership" of the media. This protectionism is their legacy. Writers and music artists create the media and contract with the publishers for production, distribution and promotion. Now, some writers are declaring independence, setting up shop with their own web sites or aligning themselves in non-exclusive arrangements with online book sellers, such as Smashwords.