The 21st century has brought some new technological changes to the publishing industry. These changes include e-books, print on demand and accessible publishing. E-books have been quickly growing in availability in major publishing markets such as the USA and the UK since 2005. Google, Amazon.com and Sony have been leaders in working with publishers and libraries to digitize books. As of early 2011 Amazon’s Kindle reading device is a significant force in the market, along with the Apple iPad and the Nook from Barnes & Noble. Along with the growing popularity of e-books, some companies like Oyster and Scribd have pursued the subscription model, providing members unlimited access to a content library on a variety of digital reading devices.
The ability to quickly and cost-effectively print on demand has meant that publishers no longer have to store books at warehouses, if the book is in low or unknown demand. This is a huge advantage to small publishers who can now operate without large overheads and large publishers who can now cost-effectively sell their backlisted items.
Accessible publishing uses the digitization of books to mark up books into XML and then produces multiple formats from this to sell to consumers, often targeting those with difficulty reading. Formats include a variety larger print sizes, specialized print formats for dyslexia, eye tracking problems and macular degeneration, as well as Braille, DAISY, audiobooks and e-books.
Green publishing means adapting the publishing process to minimise environmental impact. One example of this is the concept of on-demand printing, using digital or print-on-demand technology. This cuts down the need to ship books since they are manufactured close to the customer on a just-in-time basis.
A further development is the growth of on-line publishing where no physical books are produced. The ebook is created by the author and uploaded to a website from where it can be downloaded and read by anyone.
An increasing number of small authors are using niche marketing online to sell more books by engaging with their readers online. These authors can use free services such as Smashwords or Amazon’s CreateSpace to have their book available for worldwide sale. There is an obvious attraction for first time authors who have been repeatedly rejected by the existing agent/publisher model to explore this opportunity. However, a consequence of this change in the mechanics of book distribution is that there is now no mandatory check on author skill or even their ability to spell, and any person with an internet connection can publish whatever they choose, regardless of the literary merit or even basic readability of their writing.