Are publishers over-obsessed with eBooks?

Last week The Bookseller hosted a seminar entitled, ‘Reaching Readers Online’, at which Peter Collingridge of Apt Studio warned publishers of ignoring eBooks at their peril and pleaded with them to sort out their digitisation strategy, “…because they are coming whether you like it or not.” I agree with him wholeheartedly, which is why at Pan Macmillan we have, for almost two years already, been sorting out our digital rights, putting in place systems and processes to enable eBook delivery alongside print, having (sometimes) passionate discussions about eBook pricing policy and converting front and backlist titles ready for storage and delivery in digital form to the small but growing percentage of readers who will be ready to purchase eBooks as the first retail channels come online in the UK this year. But have we become over-obsessed with the eBook (a still discreet ‘unit’ of content which one has to download to a device in order to read)? The debate rages on endlessly about whether ‘consumers’ (otherwise known as ‘people’; us!) will ever want to read on a screen. But wait a minute, aren’t we all reading on screens quite a lot already? I don’t know about you, but I spend an unhealthy amount of my time reading on a screen. All day. Every day. It’s the one attached to my PC at work, my laptop at home and my Blackberry when I’m on the move. I read blogs. I read news feeds. I read web pages in many forms. Sure, I am still uncomfortable reading enormous amounts on screen (I get a crick in my neck and my eyes go fuzzy after a while), but I can certainly read the equivalent of a short chapter. (In fact, I read somewhere that people are comfortable reading an average of 14 screens at one sitting). As Adam Hodgkin points out on the Exact Editions blog, publishers may be ignoring the online streaming access model at the expense of the eBook dowbnload model. Maybe, with Google, Microsoft et al pushing book content into search results through their respective book search programmes, the way consumers will ulitmately reach book content is simply via web pages on a subscription or advertising-supported basis. It’s still spread-your-bets time in the world of digital publishing. That’s why we’re converting to SGML / XML at the same time as we convert to our various eBook download formats.