Andrew Keen: The Tipping Point has finally arrived for the publishing industry

New Media

The medium isn't always the message. In his 2000 best-seller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the American pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell described a "tipping point" as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point" when change becomes unavoidable and inevitable.

But Gladwell didn't use his Tipping Point – a printed book that was mass published and sold through both traditional and online bookstores – to discuss or execute fundamental change in book publishing.

While the internet has savaged the newspaper and recorded industries, it has had much less impact on the book business. But in 2009, one big thing and many little things in new media have conspired to bring traditional publishing to boiling point. Writers, publishers and readers have collectively reached a threshold of change from which they can't retreat.

That one big thing is digital book technology. Until now, the e-book has been more breathless theory than digital practice. But with the growing popularity of the second generation Amazon Kindle (still available only in the US), the Sony Reader and persistent rumours of a digital reading device from the American book retailer Barnes & Noble, the idea of replacing the bulky book with a convenient digital device is increasingly attractive.

Digital has even begun to revolutionise the printing process. A couple of weeks ago, publishing industry professionals at the London Book Fair were treated to a demonstration of the radical new Espresso Book Machine – a digital contraption that prints books on demand in under five minutes. This so-called "ATM for books" – the invention of ex Random House publisher Jason Epstein – changes everything about traditional bookstores. With the Espresso Book Machine, book retailing has suddenly gone flat, the tiniest bookseller now having access to the identical inventory as the megastore.

But it's the little changes in publishing that are really making all the difference. Some of these changes are connected with the ecosystem of the e-book. Take Apple's iPhone app store, for example, which is featuring more and more digital applications – such as Scroll Motion, Short Covers and Classics – for reading e-books on your phone. The Apple store has become so popular that Amazon last week acquired Lexcyle, the company behind the most popular iPhone app, the Stanza e-reading interface.

Then there are the increasingly innovative changes to the way in which traditional publishers are packaging and selling digital books. A couple of weeks ago, for example, Random House UK launched www.BookAndBeyond.com, an enhanced e-book initiative which provides consumers of e-books with interactive audio and video interviews and features from popular authors like James Patterson, Lee Child and Marcus Zuzak.

And so, without huge fanfare, Gladwell's tipping point has caught up with the book business. The age-old reality of distributing centrally published books through retail stores is being replaced by a new reality of interactive e-books and an evolving ecosystem of supply and demand. 2009 might be remembered as the year the medium finally caught up with the message.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions