G. Pascal Zachary, a visiting scholar at the University of California's School of Information, has a piece in The Chronicle Review about a future in which the book industry operates a lot like the music industry (when you can obtain a single, digitized song, you may not want to purchase an entire album), and how the same technological issues that are threatening newspapers and magazines now also threaten books:
In the debate over the future of books, the specter of their being broken into parts —chapters, sentences, phrases—is relatively ignored. Preoccupied with whether books will survive at all, critics have ignored a more urgent question: In what new ways will serious writers and thinkers express themselves, given the upheaval in book publishing?
It's not impossible to envision a future in which stories that are part of a short-story or essay compilation can be purchased individually. And as e-books make their way into the academic world, it's not out of the question to predict that one day soon, students will be able to purchase only the book chapters necessary for coursework, and not an entire book. What do you think?
-In related publishing news, NYT has a report about Beast Books, a new imprint created by The Daily Beast and Perseus Books Group with a strategy to publish books faster--by first releasing them as e-books, and following later with a paperback release. The whole process (from writing to editing to published) would be complete within a matter of months.