UNESCO's somewhat arbitrary definition of "book" is:
"Non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers."
The emergence of electronic publishing was supposed to change all that. Yet a bloodbath of unusual proportions has taken place in last few months. Time Warner's iPublish and MightyWords (partly owned by Barnes and Noble) were last in a string of resounding failures which cast in doubt business model underlying digital content. Everything seemed to have gone wrong: dot.coms dot bombed, venture capital dried up, competing standards fractured an already fragile marketplace, hardware (e-book readers) was clunky and awkward, software unwieldy, e-books badly written or already in public domain.
Terrified by inexorable process of disintermediation (the establishment of direct contact between author and readers, excluding publishers and bookstores) and by ease with which digital content can be replicated - publishers resorted to draconian copyright protection measures (euphemistically known as "digital rights management"). This further alienated few potential readers left. The opposite model of "viral" or "buzz" marketing (by encouraging dissemination of free copies of promoted book) was only marginally more successful.
Moreover, e-publishing's delivery platform, Internet, has been transformed beyond recognition since March 2000.
From an open, somewhat anarchic, web of networked computers - it has evolved into a territorial, commercial, corporate extension of "brick and mortar" giants, subject to government regulation. It is less friendly towards independent (small) publishers, backbone of e-publishing. Increasingly, it is expropriated by publishing and media behemoths. It is treated as a medium for cross promotion, supply chain management, and customer relations management. It offers only some minor synergies with non-cyberspace, real world, franchises and media properties. The likes of Disney and Bertelsmann have swung a full circle from considering Internet to be next big thing in New Media delivery - to frantic efforts to contain red ink it oozed all over their otherwise impeccable balance sheets.
But were now silent pundits right all same? Is future of publishing (and other media industries) inextricably intertwined with Internet?
The answer depends on whether an old habit dies hard. Internet surfers are used to free content. They are very reluctant to pay for information (with precious few exceptions, like "Wall Street Journal"'s electronic edition). Moreover, Internet, with 3 billion pages listed in Google search engine (and another 15 billion in "invisible" databases), provides many free substitutes to every information product, no matter how superior. Web based media companies (such as Salon and Britannica.com) have been experimenting with payment and pricing models. But this is besides point. Whether in form of subscription (Britannica), pay per view (Questia), pay to print (Fathom), sample and pay to buy physical product (RealRead), or micropayments (Amazon) - public refuses to cough up.