E-books take off

<p>Christmas 2009 was the time when e-book sales in America began to have financial significance, and we could learn some valuable lessons. We could start to see who the heavy users are likely to be, like readers of business books or romantic fiction. Most importantly, the bestseller lists for e-book and print books was identical, thus proving that these are not separate markets, just different formats for reading.</p>
<p>In its determination to dominate the e-book market in the lead up to Christmas, Amazon priced books as loss leaders to drive sales of its bespoke device, the Kindle, whilst approaching well known authors and offering more attractive royalties than publishers for exclusive deals in its backlist. Publishers did not win authors' trust either by erroneously asserting, in one case, that existing contracts had granted them these rights already, or by trying to lower authors' e-book royalties in the face of competition.</p>
<p>With a number of other e-book devices available, the arrival of Apple's iPad in January was the next significant event, providing sufficient leverage for publishers to take back some control over e-book pricing. The timing of Macmillan's conflict with Amazon in America in the same week Apple launched the iPad was not a coincidence, and Amazon scored a bad own goal by removing the buy buttons for Macmillan books, thus reminding people of its preparedness to ruthlessly use its monopolistic position and punish those who did not do what it wanted. Macmillan won further kudos by announcing it would revert to their earlier position, rather than reducing author's e-book royalties.</p>
<p>In the meantime Google has yet to launch its response, which will not be a device at all, but rather a way for consumers, in a single transaction, to acquire content in any format they choose for reading.</p>
<p>The pace of change is accelerating and I believe that a wider choice of formats and devices for reading can only be a thrilling development for readers and writers. I also believe that books remain a marvellous and utilitarian object, and hope to continue to live and work in rooms filled with them. Perhaps more controversially as an agent, I believe that good publishers should be trusted to publish an author's work in a range of appropriate and inter-related formats, provided they recognise that e-book royalties are likely to rise as markets develop, and any agreement that is reached now will be provisional and subject to review.<br />