From the Digital Frontier: A Shifting $12 Billion Publishing Market

The publishing world is a $12 billion space. It's also a shifting market, as the old business model of printing books and selling them through bookstores is all but extinct. Barnes and Noble is the last bastion of the traditional bookstore, and publishing giants are rapidly consolidating and merging, lest they cease to exist too.

Despite this shifting landscape, the 2013 Digital Book World Conference and Expo that took place last week was an event filled with optimism and energy. New and innovative companies have flooded the space with products to serve this emerging digital book frontier. As CEO David Nussbaum writes, "The mainstay of it all is opportunity."

In the Expo, our top picks that you should check out are: Inkling, a new digital platform for interactive books; IDS America, a full service outsourcing company specializing in the publishing industry; and Flipside Publishing Services for interactive books.

One of the highlights of the Thursday sessions was a panel on New Business Model Experimentation. It was fascinating to see young, fresh companies lecture on a panel to an eager audience of publisher mainstays. The conversation was dominated by panelists who were the founders of innovative start-ups that break the traditional mould of print publishing: Chris Bauerle is a Director at Sourcebooks, an independent publisher with a cute online bookstore replete with useful apps. Evan Ratliff is the CEO of Atavist, which is a simple three-step digital self-publishing tool. Brendan Cahill is CEO of NatureShare, and has used the technology behind this to build Storyville, an app that delivers short stories to your iPad or iPhone weekly, with mostly original content from renowned authors and rising stars alike.

For our team at Library For All, it was interesting to listen to the panel on how libraries fit into the digital picture. George Coe, the President of Library and Education at Baker and Taylor commented that about 250 libraries in the country are currently experimenting their first apps, and predicted that these apps would open up a new channel for normally inactive members to be engaged in library services. Stephanie Anderson, from the Darien Library, also her passion for 3M's kiosk platform, which she argues is built to meet the needs of the library members in the future.

Publishers still have major concerns with piracy that is leading many to hold back on digitization of print titles. In a worksession led by Micheal Smith of Carnegie Mellon University, he argued that more stringent piracy laws are not the solution. To compete with free, publishers need to make their content more attractive and essentially, discoverable. Entering the ebook market late will result in lost revenue to piracy. But if customers can easily find the ebook they are looking for and pay for it, they are less likely to seek out a pirated option.

One thing is clear -- 2013 is not a year for publishers to be resting on their laurels. Creating innovation from within institutionalized companies is notoriously difficult, as Mr. Christensen will tell you himself in The Innovators Dilemma. The field is wide open for entrepreneurs though, and there were plenty at this year's conference who fancy their chances in the wild wild west of digital book publishing.