In the Welsh county of Powys there is a small town that has two claims to fame. Firstly it has over 30 bookshops and secondly, because of that, it is the home of the world famous Hay-on-Wye Literary festival. At the festival, which finished last Sunday, you can wander between tents listening to a range of speakers from Stephen Fry to Desmond Tutu, Jeremy Clarkson in one tent and Harry Hill next to Bill Clinton in another. The festival is such big news now that its main sponsor is the Guardian and it has daily coverage of the speakers, debates and events on Sky TV Arts Channel
Of course a festival that can attract this level of heavyweight speakers also attracts a fair amount of sponsorship and one of the main sponsors this year is Sony. Specifically it is promoting its ebook reader the Sony Reader. This little electronic device can store up to 160 ebooks and, with Amazons Kindle reader, among many digital book readers available now.
Publishing executives are watching with keen interest the growth of e-book readers as unlike the internet where most content is available for free, ebooks are charged for. Yes the readers tend to come with a range of out of copyright texts but new e-books cost as much as your average paperback and many in the publishing world are looking at this as a whole new growth channel for the publishing world.
Imagine not having to worry about the weight and size of books when you pack for your holidays. All you need to do is download 4 or 5 or even more books to your book reader that is less than an A4 pad in size and pack that in your hand luggage. You are happy as you have less to carry and the publishers are happy as you have bought each one and they have not had to print them or distribute them so they make more profit. Now you can see the appeal for the publishers.
Its not only the book world that is getting excited. Rupert Murdoch recently announced that News International is going to spend time, effort and money to try and make people pay for newspaper content online. This will not be easy, but in America people seem to be happy to pay for newspaper subscriptions to read their paper of choice on the Kindle device. This has been so successful that Amazon has now launched a larger tablet version of the Kindle to make it easier to read larger formats such as newspapers. Whether this will take off in the UK remains to be seen but many in the UK are hoping it does.
Amazon’s Kindle is only currently available in the US which is why Sony are moving fast with its reader as unlike the Kindle it is not wireless and does not offer newspaper and magazines. The Kindle scores highly there, wirelessly updating itself while you are on the move. The latest rumour is that Apple is looking at a tablet rival which could become the publishing equivalent of the ipod.
Technology aside, whether people will convert and actually use them will be the main driving force for growth in this new market. As part of the sponsorship for Hay festival Sony is running workshops and panel discussions as well as a trial area for anyone interested in seeing them work. At the moment with the Sony device at £219 and the Kindle in the US at £310 price will also be an issue. However as more devices are launched and prices come down publishers of both newspapers and books are hoping this could create a whole new literary world and a nice revenue stream in the process.