Last week, Penguin announced that it plans to publish all new titles simultaneously in e-book and print format. This week, Pan Macmillan also revealed (at the London Book Fair) that it will publish new print and e-books simultaneously from January 2009. Back-lists are also being digitised: Penguin is already working on turning its 5,000 title backlist into e-books for publication this and next year, and Bloomsbury recently joined Microsoft's Live Search programme to enable the digitisation of its entire backlist, which it will then sell as e-books and print on demand. (There is a bit of an argument going on with Amazon over its recent insistence that US publishers use its own Booksurge for the purpose, and also over the rates it is planning to charge publishers for the service, but it will happen – either with Amazon as the 'preferred partner' or with other providers.)
E-readers and mobile devices are now at the point where many find them useable and some say they are even preferable to printed books. It looks as if publishers will be ready, after many years of speculation about when (rather than if) the tipping point will arrive for digital. Interestingly, it is the rapid increase of popularity of mobile devices that is helping to drive these latest developments – for which purpose the digitised back-content will be in smallish chunks of xml so that the text will be available in excerpts suited to the mobile format, as well as downloadable into a complete e- or printed book. I remember a nasty blog post a year or so ago (to which I am not going to link), in which someone picked up a post in which I discussed the possibility of some of these developments, and sneered at me in a most unfettered way. Not a wise move, on his part, in light of subsequent events.