The digital revolution has brought about significant changes in the information sector, leading to what can be described as creative destruction. This transformation has particularly affected bookstores and libraries, especially those in colleges and universities, which are now largely underutilized by students.

While bookstores still hold one distinct advantage—browsing is generally easier in a physical store than online—this edge is expected to diminish. Artificial intelligence is continually improving, allowing Amazon to make increasingly accurate book recommendations tailored to individual shoppers’ interests. As AI technology advances, this will further reduce the need for traditional browsing.

Is Everything So Clear?

While Amazon has significantly disrupted the traditional bookstore industry, leading to events such as the bankruptcy of Borders, it has paradoxically provided a lifeline to niche bookstores specializing in out-of-print books. These specialized bookstores benefit from Amazon’s vast marketing reach, which helps them connect with customers who are specifically searching for rare titles. 

Amazon’s business model, while groundbreaking, can be traced back to the principles of earlier mail-order giants like Sears Roebuck. At its core, Amazon is an efficient distribution system for existing products.

The introduction of e-books represents a new product category, yet it also serves as an innovative channel for delivering book content. That is, traditional bookstores now compete more with ebooks than Amazon. However, digitalization of romance novels and other genres is not bad for users. This is an addition to their physical library. The primary advantages of e-books over traditional print books remain somewhat limited.

How Real Are Bankruptcy Risks?

We must evaluate how these groundbreaking advancements impact publishers and, more importantly, authors, as they are the primary creators of the value that books offer. Enhancements in distribution decrease the quality-adjusted cost of the distributed product, which should, in theory, benefit the producers—both authors and publishers. However, Amazon’s significant monopsonistic power in the book market allows it to absorb much of the cost savings from improved distribution.

Despite the digital revolution, the number of books produced has not seen a substantial increase. This trend could be attributed to the rise of alternative media forms. Now you can stay up to date with events in the book market only through the iOS App Store and a couple of applications from there. This phenomenon fueled the digital revolution, resulting in a vast array of information and entertainment options unrelated to books now accessible online.

A major concern stemming from the digital revolution for publishers and authors is the widespread issue of piracy, which infringes on copyright laws. As the costs of copying and distributing copied materials have decreased dramatically, the expense of preventing unauthorized copying and distribution has notably increased. Interestingly, piracy isn’t entirely detrimental from an author’s or publisher’s perspective.

In today’s digitally-driven world, copyright law must evolve to keep pace with the online revolution in content distribution. Imagine a scenario where every book ever published is digitized and available for download at no cost. Google has already made significant strides in this direction but faces legal constraints. Due to current copyright laws, Google cannot provide full access to copyrighted works in its extensive digital library, except as permitted under the doctrine of “fair use” or through negotiated copyright licenses.

One potential solution is implementing a standardized, modest fee for each download, whether by a consumer or e-book publisher. This approach could curetail piracy, as pirating content involves technical challenges and is not free of costs. Meanwhile, physical books would continue to sell, given that many people still prefer reading printed materials over digital formats.

Traditional copyright analysis suggests a balance between providing access to copyrighted works and encouraging their creation. However, this perspective is incomplete. Broad access that includes the ability to copy can actually foster creativity. Many new works are derivative, building on and enhancing previous creations—consider Milton’s Paradise Lost and its roots in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. 

Conclusion

Digitalization and the emergence of ebooks are changing the landscape in the book world. Some book suppliers, bookstores and publishers do face the risk of bankruptcy. But the problem here is that the market has changed, but the regulatory framework has not had time to adapt, and there is also some lag in the adaptation of the bookstores themselves. By modernizing copyright law to accommodate the realities of digital distribution, we can better support both the protection of original works and the creative innovation that builds upon them.